Holy Toledo! And Áahhvila, Spain!

If I had a euro for every time someone asked us if we’d been to Toledo (pronounced tə-LAY-doh) Spain yet, I’d have a couple more euros. But it truly is one of the favorite places of some of our friends, and one of our sons says it has been a lifelong dream of his to visit there. So we did it for him.

Toledo is a city full of so much history that the entire city was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. It’s located on the banks of the Tagus River, which means if we’d wanted to we could’ve procured (a fancy word for “stolen”) a boat and sailed all the way back to Lisbon. But then we remembered that Marco, our beloved VW Polo, can’t swim, so we opted to let him take us home on land.

Many Americans have heard of Toledo mostly due the phrase “Holy Toledo!” I looked up the origins of that phrase and found a reference to the 1920’s & 1930’s, when Toledo, Ohio was an agreed-upon sanctuary between cops and gangsters. But I also found another reference saying that it arose due to all the churches in Toledo, Spain.

However, it is actually Ávila, as you’ll see below, that is known for having the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain. Still, I think we can all agree that “Holy Toledo!” sounds a lot better than “Holy Ávila!” especially since most Americans wouldn’t pronounce Ávila correctly anyway. But I tend to think it’s probably the gangster story that’s true. I haven’t heard any Europeans ever utter the phrase, even when confronted with something as amazing and weird as my bald head, so I’m pretty sure it’s an American thing.

So we viewed some of the obligatory cathedrals, etc., but truth be told, the cathedrals in Toledo kinda put us over our European Church and Cathedral Limit (aka the dreaded ECCL). Maybe it’s appropriate that it happened in “holy Toledo.” Truly, some of those religious structures are amazing, some display incredible riches (which we always find a little hypocritical), and many of them display the full extent of the architectural abilities of the peoples of that time. But after a while, they all start kinda looking the same. While I promise the above photos were taken in Toledo, you and I both know I could have pasted any photos from almost any cathedral and no one would’ve known the difference.

But the rest of Toledo was as beautiful as advertised. It’s quaint, charming, pretty, and clean.

A couple of hours away from Toledo is another town that looks a bit like a mini-Toledo, called Ávila.

Back when we lived in the states, I had never heard of Ávila. And I would’ve pronounced it “Aveela,” as most Americans would be inclined to do, especially since most of us find accent marks annoying and totally ignorable.(Oh those silly Europeans, can’t they just memorize the pronunciations?) But the accent mark on top of the “Á” tells us that it’s pronounced “AAHvila,” or if you’re old, sleepy, and Spanish, probably “Aaaaaaahvila.” And that’s exactly what it provided for us, an “aah” moment, as we appreciated the town’s beauty and splendor, highlighted by very well preserved medieval city walls.

When it was all said and done, we enjoyed strolling around Ávila (while mostly ignoring the churches, despite those being part of its claim to fame), and we loved walking on the city walls (where we took most of our pictures).

Orson Welles once named Ávila as the place in which he would most desire to live, calling it a “strange, tragic place.” The link there shows a very short clip of that part of his interview, but it’s kinda funny because it seems as if he has absolutely no idea why he’d want to live there, plus it sounded like he’d never even been to that part of Spain. Regardless, we kept looking for Rosebud, thinking that we may finally found the answer to that mystery, but alas, we remained Rosebudless.

The main landmark in the city is the imposing Walls of Ávila (11th–14th centuries), construction of which began in 1090. The enclosed area is 31 hectares (77 acres) with a perimeter of 2,516 meters (2,752 yd), 88 blocks of semicircular towers, 2,500 merlons, curtain walls 3 m (9 ft 10 in) thick, with an average height of 12 m (39 ft), and 9 gates. The walls represent the largest fully illuminated monument in the world. It is possible to walk upon the walls for roughly half their circumference. (per Wikipedia)

And of course no visit to any town would be complete without a Door of the Day.

We never could figure out why Toledians (Toledoites? Toledocans? Toledoese?) hate Texas so much that they prohibited the whole city of El Paso. We kept asking the locals, “Why do you hate Texas so much?” They only returned puzzled glances in response, and if they were with children they wrapped their arms around them protectively while doing so. We tried to tell them we weren’t Texans, only curious, but by that time most of them were trotting in the other direction. Anyway, I guess you won’t find any direct flights from Toledo, Spain to El Paso, Texas, but we’re at a loss to know what El Pasoans (El Pasoites? El Pasocans? El Pasoese?) did to deserve it.

Lastly, as most Bald Sasquatch devotees know, we rarely pass up an opportunity to wander through a castle. There was a ripe one ready for the pluckin’ just about an hour out of Madrid, called the Castle Manzanares el Real, because it is, of course, very real, so they had to let us know that in the name.

Turns out it was the most expensive castle we’ve ever visited because it’s where Carolyn lost her prescription glasses. So if you happen to be wandering around Castle Manzanares el Real and find a pair of glasses, please contact us right away. We’ll even give you a free subscription to baldsasquatch.com just for finding them!

Construction of the New Castle of Manzanares el Real began in 1475, and is now one of the best preserved castles in Spain, as well as a leading repository of lost glasses by former Oregonians.

…And we close with the last door of the day!

I think Carolyn has a future as a door model.

Seriously. Segovia, Spain.

We drove to Madrid in order to see that metropolis, but while it’s big and bustling and modern, we ended up using it mostly as a hub to see some of the charming little towns that surround it. The first was Segovia, Spain, which is famous for three structures in particular, as you’ll see below. It is also the capitol of the Province of Segovia, as well as the home of that famous women’s Roller Derby team, the Segovian Sluts.

The first of the three famous structures is an impressive aqueduct, which greets you as you drive into town. The aqueduct is so important to the Segovians that it’s even a part of the city’s coat of arms (although I have no idea how you’d fit an entire aqueduct into your coat). It is of Roman construction, estimated to have been built in the first century AD. The aqueduct is the city’s most important architectural landmark, and functioned for centuries. It runs a little over 9 miles (15km), delivering water from the Rio Frio river. Not sure if the water stayed frio during the journey, but this was before 7-11 invented Slurpees, so the Spanish didn’t care. But in essence, 7-11 killed the aqueduct. Think about that next time you push through the “Save the Aqueducts!” mobs when you decide to go into one of those stores.

You can see why the aqueduct is so important to Segovia, it’s pretty hard to miss. Can you imagine building something that is used for centuries? I wonder how many things we build today will be able to claim the same. Yeah, I think none. I might’ve said Betty White but she screwed that all up.

The second of the three structures is the Segovia Cathedral, which dominates the skyline and offers some impressive views of the landscape if you go to the top.

The church was built in the mid-16th century in late Gothic style, which by that time was out of favor in the rest of Europe. The Spaniards of the time didn’t care about that though, because that was a time when a lot of Spaniards had a mindset against hard work. Seriously. That’s covered in some detail in the 1,342 page History of Segovia tome we have on our coffee table, so you know it must be true.

Anyway, I don’t know how they built anything with that attitude. In this case, the powers-that-be decided to dedicate it to the Virgin Mary, which must have scared all the construction workers into making it because none of them wanted to die a virgin. It’s all in the book!

The third famous structure is the Alcázar of Segovia (Alcázar means “Fortress”). It is a medieval castle originally built to serve as a fortress, but has also been used as a royal palace, a state prison, an artillery college, a military academy, a museum, and as a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant (just kidding).

It also inspired the castle in Disney’s 1937 animated film, Snow White and the Seven Spaniards (the title was later changed to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves after a couple of drunken Spaniards complained loudly in front of Walt’s wife, Lillian). We never hear much about Lillian Disney do we? I wonder if that was because of the Spaniards…

Segovia is also a beautiful and picturesque town. We spent most of the day just wandering around gazing upon all the beauty, both manmade and natural. The more we travel, the more we appreciate the smaller towns, with their history and charm. Segovia definitely filled the bill!

Segovia is also the home of the Spanish Western Order of the Overcaffeinated Nuns (SWOON). You can see their headquarters here at the Eurostar Cappuccino Convent.

But perhaps the most famous Segovian architecture of them all is the amazing Gargoyle with an iPhone. It’s said that Steve Jobs took a trip out here in the late ’90s and was inspired by this incredibly prognosticative ancient statue, and the rest is technology history. Fortunately, the gargoyle obviously wasn’t looking at porn, mostly because that hadn’t been invented yet, and if it had, no doubt there would have been a little, ahem. physical evidence from a naked gargoyle, if you know what I mean. Of course, I’m talking about his expression… wait, what were you thinking? Oh shame! Shame! You disgust me!

Well that’s it for Segovia. We highly recommend it to anyone traveling in or around Madrid, as it was to us by some local friends. It doesn’t get much more picturesque than Segovia, Spain. Seriously!

We’re Taking a Break From Our Irregularly Scheduled Blogcast to Send You a Wave

Duuude, one of the things we were stoked to shred ever since we arrived in Portugal is to go see Nazaré, the home of numerous gnarly surfing records due to the bitchin’ size of the waves that seemingly loom over the entire town. But we had just never gotten a round tuit. Then we found one under the couch!

And so with tuit in hand and spurred on by news reports that the waves were crashing big, we knew surfers from around the world would be descending upon Nazaré like QAnon nutjobs invading Washington DC. So we set off on the two hour drive to see the biggest surfable waves in the world on what was a beautiful, sunny Saturday.

Visitors to the Nazaré beach are greeted by this surf monument that surely leaves many people wondering. But there’s a legendary back story behind it (click on “back story” to see the short article describing all of it), dating all the way back- and I kid you not- to Jesus’ father, Joseph the Carpenter. Of course, it’s a well known fact that Jesus was a big surfer dude; apparently he didn’t even need a surfboard. Or waves.

Because Portuguese is based in Latin, it’s often pretty easy for us to figure out certain Portuguese words and phrases. For instance, take this sign… please! No, I kid, it’s a great sign. Anyway, we already know that “antes” means “before,” (poker teaches us that- an ante is put in before the hands are played) so we can then figure out that this sign is telling us that the TWL gig happened before all of this, because “gig-before,” means the gig happened before (remember, in Portuguese the adjectives come after the noun). So voila! See how easy this language stuff is? The fact that I’m not any closer to understanding almost any bit of anything is irrelevant… it’s the system, you see? We’ve got this stuff down pat! Down Pat! Down Pat! Crazy dog. Oh, and don’t ask me who TWL is. It stands for The Wacky Linguist for all I know. Of course, “gigantes” could have something to do with being really big, how should I know? I don’t even know Latin!

The police keep watch over the waves to make sure they don’t trespass on the crowds. Fun fact: since their coats say “policia” means that on the other side of those bodies are four female breasts, because in Portuguese the feminine ends with an “a,” and the masculine ends with an “o.” Ergo, if those had been men, then their coats would say “policio.” Unless they’re cross-dressing cops, but I’m not sure that’s allowed. Anyway, a coupla tough-looking broads there, let me tell ya.

It was a little misty due to all the waves, but I think mostly because there were lots of water droplets in the air. In the distance is the town of Nazaré, as seen from the base of the lighthouse tower thingee that juts into the midst of all those waves. Speaking of poker, is that a great face for poker or what?

This is the same view without the big galoot in the middle of it and after we vacuumed all the water droplets out of the air.

The geography that creates all these waves means that the whole process is a bit haphazard. Huge waves come crashing in from the side as the water barrels through an underwater canyon, oftentimes looking like God put an invisible blender in the water and accidentally left it plugged in while he tended to the mess on the planet Foogeroe. Those damn Foogeroans are always causing trouble.

It looked to me that the amount of time you’d actually spend successfully surfing one of the waves is maybe 10-20 seconds. Afterward, you may need to hold your breath for up to four minutes, all while your body is being tossed about like a Raggedy Ann doll in a clothes dryer. Except nothing is dry, including deep inside whatever orifices you have. Fun fact: enemas were invented at Nazaré.

In fact, sometime on or about the time we were there, a surfer wiped out very gnarilly (yeah shut up spell checker, I can make up words if I want) and ended up in the hospital. Fortunately, and amazingly, given the treacherous conditions, no surfer has died at Nazaré. Yet. (Unlike most of the other fun facts here that one is actually true, thank goodness.)

Okay, I know you want to see the waves. So without further ado, here follows a gallery of pictures of the waves we saw. Wave everyone!

So that should give you some idea as to what was going on in Nazaré. In the bottom-most picture above you can gauge the size of these smaller waves by noting the little black dots on the water- those are the jet skis that tow the surfers out and save their lives when they crash.

A pano shot of the area above it all.

But be careful of the unstable Cliffs!

The Portuguese are kind enough to provide warnings about people named Cliff who are unstable. Of course, three of the above are dead and the other is fictional, so I’m not sure you should really be calling all these Cliffs unstable. Although it might just be a bad translation (maybe “unstable” was supposed to be “dead”), or maybe it’s an old sign; the Portuguese never tear anything down.

FYI, clockwise, that’s Metallica’s Cliff Burton (who died in 1986), the NBA’s Cliff Robinson (who died in 2020), actor Cliff Robertson (who died on Sept. 10, 2011… I think that’s pretty suspicious!), and Cliff Claven from the TV show Cheers, who never died and never will.

In order to make videos appear on this site, I have to convert them to a gif. The other videos we had didn’t really work very well in that regard, so this is the best live action shot I can post. It’s actually not the part of the beach anyone surfs on, but even a small wave is a kind wave.

Yeah I wish I took this picture, but I didn’t. And we didn’t see anything like it. However, this photo does give me an appreciation for camera angles and photography skill, because even though the wave here is big, they don’t really loom over the lighthouse quite like the photos would have you believe. Still, they are the biggest waves on the planet, so there’s that.

This animal was standing around making an ass out of himself. They even had an ass-hat sitting on the ground with a sign asking for donations. Assk and you shall receive, I guess.

In the end (no pun intended), I suppose I might’ve been better off just posting this video. This is the day we were there. We didn’t quite see things like this really… guess next time I’ll ride in a drone! And become a better photographer!

And now back to our irregularly unscheduled program.

Heaven Forbid, We’re Amid Madrid!

With a Covid Winter looming over the entire earth, reducing our desire to get on planes filled with disease-ridden, droopy-masked Typhoid Marys sneezing all over us, we wedged one last trip of the year into our travel bag by making the six hour drive to visit Madrid, Spain’s largest city.

It is also the third largest city in the EU, the 54th largest on earth, and the 4,231,421th largest in the universe. But don’t quote me on that: the Zynglovians, who do nothing but track this kind of data, have an internet search engine that’s a little left-leaning, so take it with a grain of slamanja. Could be only 5,521,563rd for all I know.

What some geography-challenged Americans might not have known is that to get to Madrid from Portugal you have to drive through Los Angeles, as you can see by that road sign. I know, right? Who knew? But now I suppose we know why there are so many Spanish speakers in California. Of course, if you know any Spanish you’d know this sign was saying it was the “other” (otero- duh!) Los Angeles, and it’s located just below the blacksmiths. Seriously, that’s what “Herreros” means. See- no matter how much misinformation these blogs provide, we guarantee (or your money back!) there’s almost always one truth in each paragraph!

One of the first things we do when we arrive in a city is do an internet search on “Things to do in…” By doing so, we can get a pretty quick idea as to whether it’s a city with lots of historical things to see or if they need to set up centers for the Treatment of Tourist Boredom. For instance, if the number five thing to do is a children’s playground or a hot dog museum, then we know there’s a high TTB factor and we won’t need to be there very long. With Madrid, it seemed as if most of the things to do involve day trips to some of the surrounding towns, like Avila, Toledo, and Segovia. Madrid itself is modern, bustling, and not nearly as full of obvious history as most of the other towns we visited. Sure, there are lots of museums and such, but neither of us was in the mood for museums. Covid is still a concern so we generally spent our time outdoors or in our car running over Spaniards.

Sometimes you end up just easing people out of the way when you can’t see. I didn’t realize it was a cop until after I viewed the footage.

It was not an easy city to drive in, especially considering that I was having problems with my eyesight. Freeways criss-cross the city like a plateful of noodles, and the Spanish aren’t too patient with an old blind guy trying to drive while listening to both Google Maps and his wife yelling at him as to where to turn… and they don’t always agree. “Turn right.” “No, turn left!” “Left now?” “Right.” “You mean right?” “Rerouting.” “No left” “Right?” “NO!” “Too late now!” “Rerouting.” “Watch out for that car!” “Did I just hit something?” “Yes, step on it!” “Left or right?” “Rerouting…”

This was the view from our apartment. These towers are pretty much the only buildings that poke up past the Madrid skyline. Europe isn’t as big on skyscrapers as in many other parts in the world. Probably because they’re afraid the Germans are going to come back and blow them all up again.

There are a couple of major tourist areas in Madrid. One of them is Plaza Mayor, which is, amazingly enough, a plaza. And it’s muy mayor. Which means “A big town leader.” I think. Anyway, the Christmas tree was just being set up. The timing of our trip was fortuitous because about a week after we left Spain, it got hammered with a bunch of snow. And you don’t want to be in Spain when it’s all drunk and everything, even if it’s from snow alcohol.

The Royal Palace of Madrid is probably the main tourist tra- er, stop. It’s a big palace. I mean, royally big. Which is I’m sure how it got its name (good thing it isn’t just damn big). It was closed the day we were there, and I had little interest in spending another day trying to navigate the downtown Madrid streets. Even with the GPS, we made multiple wrong turns and maimed several Spanish people. At least I assume they were Spanish based on the language they used while cursing.

I did find this view from the palace fascinating because the palace feels as if it’s right in the heart of the city, and yet you just walk to its courtyard wall and you see trees as far as the eye can see. Well, depending on your eyes. I thought I was taking a picture of a statue.

After a long day of walking around, a nice big helping of beef is all anybody needs. That and a cardiologist.

While Madrid didn’t exactly blow us away, it did offer up three different doors of the day. I think Carolyn was really in love with that first one. She hasn’t looked at me the same since.

As far as we’re concerned, while Madrid is a large and influential city, we really enjoyed the outer towns with their castles and aqueducts and history a bit more. And those are coming up next! (Unless you’re reading this after that fact, because this site scrolls down in reverse order of time. I think that’s why some people think we’re getting younger.)

(Not that I’ve heard anyone say that, but I’m sure they’re thinking it.)

At least we made it home safely, as you can see by the above footage. Not a scratch on us!

Truth be told, I was just practicing for the roundabouts.

My next stop after this trip was to the ophthalmologist for cataract surgery. And that’s the truthpppplllhhh. No yolk!

What do Cádiz, Spain and Portland, Oregon have in common?

Actually, not a whole helluva lot. I’m thinking that the only answer to that question might be answered by this statement: “They’re both in the same Bald Sasquatch blog entry,” and that’s about it. But now if you Google that question we’re pretty much the first hit! Don’t let it be said that Baldsasquatch.com doesn’t influence the world!!!

Actually, the reason I’m combining those two cities is because I have become woefully remiss with my blogs of late, so I have to start jamming trips together. I’m not sure I can explain why I’ve been so remiss. It’s not like we’ve suddenly become employed by working on the Game of Thrones sequel or something. (I just threw that in because they recently filmed in Portugal and we applied to be extras, just for the hoot of it. They completely ignored our application even though I told them we were really good at making our heads roll around after having them chopped off and everything!)

Anyway, I figured I’d better set aside my next pressing nap and get on with it before I forgot everything. Indeed, the whole purpose of this enterprise is to document our trips so that when we’re old, decrepit, and have lost our memories, we can look at this blog… and then wonder when they’re serving lunch.

A fish with knees.

In any case, we visited Cádiz (it took us weeks to stop pronouncing it the American way, as in “CaDEEZE.” It’s “CAH-deze.” Sort of like talking about a cod with knees: cod-knees. Except don’t pronounce the “kn.” Or the “cod.” Speaking of which, what knucklehead put a “k” in front of those “n’s?” And we think learning Portuguese is hard?

Aknyway, it wasn’t lokng after this trip that we went back to the states to visit frieknds and family- okay, who’s the wiseguy adding all those k’s? I thought you were long dead!

So that is how the Cádiz/Portland connection began to take shape. When I realized that never before in history had Portland and Cádiz been linked together, I knew I had to put on my pioneering panties and be the first in line.

Because of Covid, we’ve relegated our travels to as much as we can see by car. So, in addition to driving all the way across Spain in order to see Barcelona and Mallorca, we drove down to southern Spain where we had decided to visit Cádiz solely because we’d seen a lot of signs for it during our travels in Spain and so figured it had to be more than a piece of poop in a puddle. Also, when we were down there last, visiting Gibraltar and Morocco, we completely bypassed Cádiz, which hurted its feelings. So we wanted to make it all better.

Avid readers of this blog, but only the ones with better memories than any elephant ever, might remember our award-winning Rock of Gibraltar entry. We’re happy to report the rock is still standing.

First things first, we needed to eat some lunch and so used our handy iPhone app called “Get Fat Today: Find The Closest Burger King!” Alas, apparently Burger Kings aren’t as popular in Spain as they are in the US. That may explain why projections indicate almost 90% of Americans will be overweight or obese in just a couple of decades. So Spain, you just keep right on forcing those Burger Kings into closet-sized spaces down dark alleyways. Good Spain! Good Spain!

Cádiz is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe, with archaeological remains dating all the way back to the 8th century BC. It was founded by the Phoenicians, who could’ve also founded Phoenix, Arizona if their stupid little ships with their stupid square sails could’ve crossed the Atlantic. But no-o-o, they stuck close to the shores of the Mediterranean, the big chickens.

So I’m going to be honest here. While they had a very nice (albeit overcrowded) sandy beach, we were a little underwhelmed by Cádiz. We don’t want to become jaded tourists, but sometimes you go to a city and see kind of the same stuff you saw somewhere else. Cádiz was kind of like that. It’s a pleasant city with lots of history, but we meandered about for a day and called it good.

Four years ago we might’ve stood in front of this with our mouths agape. Nowadays, we admired it for a second and moved on. I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad; after all, city residents hardly glance at such things either. Besides, our agape mouths are now generally covered up by masks, so any gaping is rather wasted anyway.

They have some nice Roman ruins in the middle of town, although apartments were built pretty much right on top of them. “Yeah, my backyard dates back to 200 BC,” says one town braggart.

Of course, little does he know there’s a tunnel underneath his home that leads right into his closet. Oh the things we saw!

At least we got a Door of the Day out of Cádiz. Really more of a Tiles of the Day, though.

After what was an enjoyable but casual visit, we decided to take a sunset cruise and so sailed off into the sunset, visions of Whoppers dancing around in our heads…

Next destination: America!

We actually meandered around the US more than just in Portland. We visited Iowa City for the first time ever (I mean, I know! What took us so long?), and drove between Seattle and Portland as well as to the Oregon Coast and multiple points in between, all to see friends and family.

After being away for almost two years, my main impressions were:

• Not much of the city landscape in and around Portland had changed, presumably due to Covid freezing everything up. It was all so familiar it was almost boring.

• The expectation of tips in the US –already the most tip-happy country in the world– have increased to even include food kiosks where you pick up your own food, bring it to the counter, and insert your credit card into the machine yourself. Um, is this tipping for good service or are we just paying your employees’ wages for you Mr. Employer?

• It is truly sad to see so many tents around Portland, most of them with piles of garbage littering all about as if mini-dumps were installed all over town. We usually see more homeless people within the first fifteen minutes of visiting a major American city than we’ve ever seen in Europe, total.

• It seemed as if every store and restaurant had a help wanted sign in front of it. Maybe America could use a wave of immigrants right about now!

Our visit to Iowa City was interesting in that it wasn’t quite what I expected. Seeing as it’s in the midwest, I expected Trump flags on every corner with gun-totin’ country folk riding in the back of their pickups holding their rifles above their heads while shouting “Go Brandon!” at everyone who looks or smells like a liberal.

Instead, we saw more “Black Lives Matter” signs, LGBT-supporting (or is it LGBTKMHE now?) rainbow flags, and “Get The Vaccine You Stupid Idiots!” posters than we have ever seen all in one place. Once you get outside the city, you can tell everyone’s conservative, mostly on account of the fact that they don’t live in the city. That’s just sort of the way America works.

This vicious man-eater was spotted all over town. We also saw the big yellow Hawkeyes everywhere as well.

One funny little anecdote: after we landed in Iowa City, as I walked off the plane there was a significant part of me that was actually a little surprised that we had just walked into an airport terminal and everything was in English. Part of my brain was actually prepared for it all to be in another language, because that’s been our experience so many times in Europe. I was actually amazed to be able to understand everything!

This is the view from the university which more or less dominates Iowa City. You won’t see any real tall skyscrapers there on account of the tornadoes. Of course, all they have to do is stop building mobile home parks and the tornadoes will stay away, but I guess Iowans love their tornadoes!

Iowa is famous for its corn, being the largest producing state in the country. Here are four corn fun facts: 1) Farmers grow corn on every continent except Antarctica. 2) One bushel of corn will sweeten more than 400 cans of Coca-Cola. 3) The main ingredient in most dry pet food is corn. 4) The fact that most of my jokes are corny has nothing to do with Iowa. Or corn. Or being funny.

One of the places we visited was an Amish store, and it was quite impressive. Everything was displayed with care and precision. They also offered up Costco-sized bags of assorted foodstuffs, including more Cheetos than you could eat during eight consecutive Super Bowls, and bags filled with only those little marshmallow things you get in Lucky Charms, i.e. without the annoying cereal thingees… you know, the only part that has a smidgen of nutrition. As a kid, I always wanted a bowlful of nothing but the marshmallows; little did I know it was the Amish who had them for me! Now I’m ticked off I wasn’t brought up Amish!

They also had these diseased-looking pumpkins. I’m sure their mothers think they’re beautiful.

I guarantee I’m not the only one who has ever done a double take when seeing the name of this store, which are splattered all over Iowa City. Well, we came and went Iowa City, and we were happy to see ya!

Now back we go to the Pacific Northwest!

I got a little kick out of Carolyn as we drove around the Pacific Northwest because she was snapping pictures left and right just like a tourist. Only four years away and suddenly we’re tourists! Actually, she wanted to show our friends in Portugal the beauty of the region. Truth be told, it’s not a bad idea to step back and see the place you live through the eyes of a tourist once in a while!

This is famous Haystack Rock, I think named after John Haystack. Or maybe some other reason, I’m not sure.

While driving through Cannon Beach (which might’ve been named after John Cannon), one of the popular seaside towns in Oregon, we spotted a couple of elk casually feeding in someone’s backyard. A line of cars slowed down to look at them, and the elk couldn’t have cared less. Awfully big animal to turn into a pet!

Along the way we had fun with our kids and grandkids. Here I am in a dysfunctional watercraft, and there we are standing next to a totem pole at the Portland Zoo with our cute grandson.

All in all, we enjoyed a very nice visit, we were very happy to see so many friends and our families!

The Conquest of Spain: The Final Chapter

I don’t know why I got such a kick out of this, but after it rained in Mallorca we noticed everything was coated with sand. We talked with some locals and learned that the sand is from the Sahara desert. It gets lifted up by the wind, crosses the Mediterranean, and enriches the pocketbooks of car wash owners all over Spain.

Poor little Marco the Polo didn’t know what to make of it, but since he couldn’t shake himself off like a dog, he just had to deal. Quit being such a big baby, Marco.

Anyway, maybe I got a kick out of it because the Sahara is surely the world’s most famous desert. It is in fact the earth’s largest “hot desert” (so described because the Antarctic and Arctic are both classified as deserts, and they are both larger than the Sahara, plus just a tad cooler), so that alone makes it impressive.

Or maybe it’s just from all of the movies I’ve seen that either featured the Sahara or were set in it. From Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in 1962 to Lawrence of Arabia in 1963 to The Mummy in 1999, the Sahara has provided an almost mystical backdrop to many a film. And there we were with the Sahara’s very own sand having dusted our little car like powdered sugar on a donut. After I climbed into Marco to drive, I felt like Lawrence of Arabia, and would have shouted his catch phrase if I knew one that he had used. (“Go camels?”) I don’t even know what Ali Baba might have said. So I sang “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, partly to acknowledge we weren’t in Kansas anymore and partly because that’s the only desert-y song I could think of. Carolyn doesn’t let me sing for very long though.

Google Maps provided us with a little history of our trip. The stop on the border is a town called Badajoz, which is now best known for being a conduit between Portugal and Spain, but apparently doesn’t deserve to have a name on a Google Map. We stopped there to buy some corn chips we can’t find in Portugal, so you’d think that alone would be deserving of some Google Map recognition, but nooo. I gotta tell ya, Google is so political!

Due to Carolyn’s balky calf, we only stayed one night in Barcelona. Since the hotel was relatively close to the Sagrada Família, a famous cathedral, we decided to test her leg power and make the 15 minute (per Google maps) walk to see the thing. 40 minutes later, we finally made it to the Cathedral. It was then that we knew we had made the right decision to stay only one night. The only time I can consistently walk that slow is when she is admonishing me while holding a wooden spoon and saying, “come here!”

We did see this while we were driving. We think it’s a bull fighting stadium. Neither of us are interested whatsoever to see a bullfight, but we understand they’re quite the spectacle. I doubt the bulls appreciate it much, though.
This looked kinda cool so we snapped a picture of it. I guess that could be the default caption for every damn picture we take.
Unlike the previous two, this one actually has an interesting story despite the fact that it looks the most boring. The hill there is basically one entire cemetery. I wish you could see it better, but at first glance I thought it was a weird kind of condominium complex, because lots of windows were facing us, glinting fiercely in the sun. It was only after closer inspection that we could see all those windows were part of the rows and rows of crypts lining the hillside. We’ve seen plenty of crypts in Portugal that have windows, apparently so you can double check that the caskets inside haven’t been ripped open by the undead. I’m not really sure why anyone actually needs to see the coffins, but I suppose that’s the only reason I can think of to ever buy a fancy coffin. Otherwise, it is so silly that people pay a ton of money for something that’s just going to be buried.

In any case, we learned that it’s very expensive to be interred there, but despite that, lots of people are still dying to get in.

Of course I had to go there. What did you think, you were reading a Fodors travel guide?
You might be wondering why we’re posting a picture of a plain ol’ bridge. Well, it’s because the train that was on it went by so fast that by the time Carolyn got her phone out it was halfway to Madrid. But I wanted the reminder because as the train whizzed by into the sunset I remember thinking, “Boy oh boy, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore!” (Neither the state or the rock group.) Between the beautiful arts and sciences buildings such as in Valencia, and the numerous parks, bike lanes, and hi-speed trains in so many big, beautiful European cities, Spain and much of Europe clearly demonstrates how it can be, and should be, done. Are you listening Topeka?

The only real excitement we had was on the original drive to Valencia, whereby we passed a gas station on the left that I had thought about stopping in, but due to the way the road was designed we would have had to drive another 1/2 a kilometer or so and do a U turn to get to it. So I thought, “Aw the heck with it, I’ll hit the next one.” Naturally, that turned out to be the longest stretch of road with no gas stations that we experienced during the entire trip. So I’m occasionally and surreptitiously glancing at the gas gauge trying to calculate whether less than a 1/4 of a tank will get us to the next town, which looks like a lot of kilometers away. But then I notice Carolyn is now nervously glancing at the gauge about every 30 seconds. Outwardly, I assure her everything is under control and that we have plenty of gas. “Stop fretting, honey. Everything’s fine! We’d probably be able to make it all the way to Valencia on what we’ve got!”

But inwardly I’m thinking, “HOLY SHIT WE’RE OUT HERE ALL ALONE AND IF WE RUN OUT OF GAS WE COULD BE 100 KILOMETERS FROM THE NEXT GAS STATION! I’M NOT SURE WE’RE GOING TO MAKE IT!!!” Fortunately, it all worked out, as we are obviously alive and well and able to tell the tale as to how we avoided dismemberment at the hands of a crazed Spaniard who walks the remotest highways looking for people who run out of gas. Phew!

On the drive back, we avoided any more life-threatening disasters, but we did experience a lot of bull. You see, during almost every long drive we take Carolyn manages to find some sort of consistent theme to keep her busy snapping pictures. Sometimes it’s a series of signs that are interesting. Sometimes it’s stork nests. Sometimes it’s castles from afar. This time it was a bunch of bulls. All around Spain are these bull silhouettes, apparently leftovers from a marketing scheme for brandy. The promotion is long over, but the bulls captured the imagination of Spaniards countrywide, and so they live on, dotting the countryside with their black bullishness and providing hours of fun for in-car photographers named Carolyn.

And if you’ve made it this far, you deserve to see the best picture of the bunch, one I don’t even need to come up with a caption for!

Mallorca- where killer whales go to shop

Spoiler alert: there’s no such thing as a mall for orcas. The internet killed all their biggest shopping centers, duh.

Of course, Mallorca (known in English as “Majorca” because Americans hate it when Spanish people pronounce double L’s) is an island off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea (or as Christopher Columbus called it, “The Pacific Ocean”).

Mallorca is the largest island in the Balearic Islands, which are part of Spain but are autonomous. As far as I can tell, I think means about the same thing as when a 10-year-old boy shouts, “you can’t tell me what to do!” at his parents.

It’s a beautiful, sun-drenched island that looked plenty prosperous to us, despite the hit to tourism Covid delivered. The capital of Palma is modern and thriving; its airport is one of the busiest in Spain.

As mentioned in the previous entry, Carolyn had an unfortunate accident while in Mallorca, as you can see in the picture with the spinning killer whale. They never should have allowed an untrained spectator to stand next to an orca (or as I like to call them, “the pandas of the seas.”)

Actually, no matter how she injured her calf muscle, it meant that we had to spend the last half of our visit lounging around the pool sipping margaritas. Sometimes good things come from tragedies. We did get to see some of Mallorca before the incident as well as on our drive back to the ferry, so it was all good.

(I might have tried to sell you on the idea that she exacerbated her injury with this video of a sea lion’s playfulness, but as everyone knows, that’s the wrong breed of sea lion for Mallorca. Although it serves that girl right for wearing a dress that looks like a fish.)

Now for the pictures:

Shortly after driving off the ferry after our overnight journey, Palma greeted us with this sunrise over the harbor. A welcome to a city doesn’t get much more picturesque than this!
We tried everything we could to break in so we could find the famous “Mallorcan Treasure Hidden in a Castle” everyone’s heard so much about, but to no avail.
So we had to settle for getting creative with our picture taking, peering through “windows” like Peeping Thomasinas. Although we’re getting to the age whereby if the opening were any lower, we might need to buzz our “Help! We’ve fallen and we can’t get up!” emergency beacon.
We also risked our lives just driving to the place. This photo doesn’t do it any justice, but the road was narrow and zigzagged up the mountain often with little to no barriers between the car and certain death. We did a Google Translate on the sign in the foreground, and it came up with, “Holy shit!”
Speaking of signs, one of the many things we learned while here is that in Mallorca (and Barcelona for that matter), the main language is Catalan. I figured that Catalan might be easy to learn because obviously this sign is telling you that it’s prohibited to a-park-a-da-car. I parked there anyway because we always have the excuse that we’re stupid Americans who don’t understand foreign signs, and that red thing was covering up the picture so we couldn’t make out what that was all about either, unless it was telling you not to tailgate tow trucks.
You can’t really tell from this photo, but Marco the VW Polo is trembling in his parking spot, because just over that barrier is a steep drop that would surely smush him to bits should he accidentally drive over it. I made double sure he was fully in reverse when we left. Marco enjoys being with us on some of our trips, but he’s a little bit of a crybaby sometimes.
The area around these picnic tables can make for an exciting time, like if you’re playing catch and you miss the ball, and it ends up at the bottom of the mountain a couple of miles away. Roly-poly babies probably should be looked after as well in order to avoid the same fate. I think that’s why Spanish babies are so skinny, so they don’t roll.
After all that exploring, we certainly deserved a beer!

(This is the camera footage I took of the way Carolyn actually hurt her calf.)

We had a lot o’ Spainin’ to do Lucy!

After a long, Covid-driven hiatus from traveling, June 2021 saw us finally able to get back on the road. Woo hoo!

Since air travel is still a bit of a pain in the buttooski, and because both Portugal and Spain offer plenty of things to see only a car ride away, we decided to bop over to Valencia, Spain, and then take Marco the VW Polo on an overnight ferry to Mallorca and then return through Barcelona, where we’d spend 4 or 5 days, with a possible stop in either Madrid or Toledo on the drive back.

Unfortunately, a bit of bad luck derailed some of our best-laid plans. Halfway through our stay in Mallorca, Carolyn hit the dance floor – and um, I mean, she literally hit the dance floor, and pulled or possibly tore a calf muscle while attempting a 360º back flip tango twist, or whatever you’d call the more elderly equivalent.

As a result, we didn’t see as many things in Mallorca as we planned, because, y’know, I wouldn’t want to be seen in public walking next to someone limping, for Pete’s sake. I have my pride! For the same reason, we decided to cut the Barcelona stay down to one night and make the 12 hour drive home the next day, where her damaged body could be hidden inside the car. I panicked a little when I thought of potty breaks (and she rudely refused my suggestion of a coffee can, which they don’t even have in Europe anyway, but still). In the end, it all actually worked out fine because I could slump down in the car while pulling my face mask over my entire face as she limped into the various gas stations.

The good news is that it proved one of the great things about living here for travel… instead of panicking at the idea that we’d never see Barcelona the way we wanted, we’ll just go back sometime! The other good news is that her leg healed up better than we were worried it might. So all is well, and here we are back to bloggin’ about our travels! Plus now I only have to wear the mask to protect against Covid again!

Valencia is one of the oldest cities in Spain (founded by the Romans… not sure who losted it before them), and is the capital of the autonomous community of Valencia as well as the third-largest city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona. When we decided it would make a good launching pad to Mallorca, we looked at the things to do and see in the various travel sites. Generally, when I look at those lists and find an assortment of parks, churches, or zoos anywhere near the top, I figure the city probably doesn’t need a lot of our time, and that’s what Valencia looked like to us before we arrived.

However, while a couple of days was mostly enough to see the highlights, we found Valencia to be a delightful city, with a very nice combination of ultra-modern arts & sciences buildings and an old town area that was full of charm. We could have spent more time there, but at least we can put a check mark by the name. Another city bites the Sasquatch dust!

So now we’re off to the pictures:

First, we had to be allowed through by this gargoyle who was guarding one of the bridges. As you can see, Carolyn thought it was handsome and charming. Come to think of it, she says the same thing about me. Hmmm…

I was going to make a joke about a fish face in regards to the picture to the right, but Carolyn is much too pretty to be thought of as having one of those.

But the building behind her does in fact look like a fish face, or maybe a clamshell.

But there’s actually nothing fishy about it: it’s called the “Palacio de las Artes Reina Sofía” in Spanish, or the “Queen Sofía Palace of the Arts” in Hindi, or whatever it is we usually speak. It is, in fact, an opera house, and actually is the tallest opera house in the world. Which is a little bit like someone bragging about sporting the world’s largest pimple, if you ask me. Unless you like opera, in which case I was just kidding.

It is also used for a variety of concerts, political rallies, and clamshell collector exhibitions.

After marveling at ol’ fish lips, we walked past a building that looks like the back of a fish. I’m detecting a theme! This is the Prince Philip Science Museum. Both of these buildings are part of an area called the City of Arts and Sciences. We didn’t go inside either one because one is, well, an opera house, so c’mon. Also, the line of people waiting to get into the science museum looked like the fish was expelling an obscenely long tapeworm. Plus we generally don’t travel to exotic cities to see their science museums (although we have). Aquariums might be a different story though, we’ll see.

This is a view from another angle. I wasn’t kidding about the fish thing, it is described as “resembling the skeleton of a whale.” I wonder how many guys named Jonah wander through there and feel creeped out?

The Palau de la Música de València is a concert, cinema, arts, and exhibition hall. There are numerous beautiful parks in Valencia; we were impressed. Lots of bike lanes too. It’s a very progressive city.
One of the buildings in the City of Arts and Sciences is an IMAX dome. I’m not sure if this is that or not, but I thought it was a really cool building, complete with an area filled with palm trees where it looks like you can ponder that statue of what appears to be a guy poling in a river while being served piña coladas by topless waitresses as you listen to reggae on your headset and have your feet rubbed by Oompa Loompas. Well, maybe not, but a man can dream, can’t he?

Of course, I’ll be a little red-faced if it turns out to be a kid’s play area.

We spent a day wandering around the old town area of Valencia, and found it full of charm. Maybe that was only because we were there, though. I’m sure the charm level dropped significantly after we left.

Valencia is filled with lots of art and whimsy. It took us a little while to figure out what this was. Eventually we realized it was a kid’s play structure, designed to look like a guy who just lost a sword fight. His sword is on the ground, and I think his gutted liver is hemorrhaging all over the sand. It took us a while to figure all that out because there were no kids on it, either because of Covid or because all the parents of Valencia figured out what it was. I mean, really? We think the Spanish might be a little loco. Mom: “Did you dance on the guts of the fallen swordsman today, Matías?” Matías: “Naw, I just slid out of his anus to scare the girls.” Mom: “Oh, Matías, is that a rip in your new brown pants? ” Matías: “Oh no, I might’ve rectum!”

If my kids ever read this blog, they’d be eye rolling over that joke, big time.

In the same area is the “Mercat Central,” which shouldn’t be confused with the meerkat section of a zoo. Additionally, as far as I could see, they don’t even serve meerkat meat there, which makes it seem like false advertising. In any case, while it’s a beautiful building, inside was just another indoor market like so many we’ve seen in Portugal and elsewhere.

However, the copywriter for the market’s website suffers from no such complacency:

It has already been held 100 years since the placement of the first stone and 90 from the first day that was opened to the public. “The Cathedral of the Senses”. There is no better expression to convey what is the Central Market today. A sacred temple where the professors of the fresh products receive and transmit the wisdom of the most substantial, our nourishment. The magical light that enters from its dome and its windows, the permanent whisper that caresses the ears, the explosion of colors and aromas, the taste at the end of the classic and timeless flavors, mixed with the most surprising. A genuine theme park for gastronomy.

I’d love to see that guy describe an outhouse.

Fountains and beautiful monuments pepper the city like, um pepper. The scofflaws that we are, we pulled down the mandatory masks so we would know who we were taking a picture of later on in our old age. Which is about now, but anyway. The end result is that in the picture on the left I look like I just had chin surgery, but hey, you’re not here for my physical beauty. At least you better not be.

No visit to an old European city would be complete without popping into one of their grand cathedrals. This is inside the Valencia Cathedral, most of which was built between the 13th century and the 15th century. The style was mainly Gothic, which is like Goth except with an ic on the end.

Speaking of ic, this is the long-dead arm of a saint (he’s known as One-Armed Pablo in heaven). Or maybe it’s just from one of the workers who misunderstood when a co-worker asked him to lend a hand, and he overshot a little. Maybe the co-worker should’ve just asked to give him the finger. Actually, this may be on display as a warning. Churches often ask for an arm and a leg.

Just a cool tree.

Last but not least, part of the City of Arts and Sciences included the Oceanografic Valencia, which is billed as Europe’s largest aquarium. I promised one of my best friends that I would go see it because he was unable to on his last visit to Valencia. We were fortunate that the crowds were so sparse due to Covid. However, I think the “Europe’s largest aquarium” thing is a little misleading, in that it is really more Sea World than aquarium. But we enjoyed the visit and the seafood, which, apparently, we weren’t supposed to fish out and cook up. Oh well, we’re just stupid Americans so we get all sorts of free passes.

After all that exploring, we certainly deserved a beer (or three, by the looks of the water rings)!

Ten Things the United States Does Better Than Europe

I will be the first to admit that since I moved to Portugal (and, frankly, some time before), I’ve been a little hard on the U.S. at times. In fact, when I told my sister ahead of time what the title of my new blog was going to be, she pretty much fell out of her chair. It isn’t that I hate the country of my birth, I just think there is a tremendous amount of opportunity wasted, and I do think the country is far more wired for the sole pleasure of the top 10% than the country likes to admit.

And because it is chock full of resources with the world’s third largest land mass (the two largest being Russia and Canada, both of which largely consist of a whole lotta nothin’), as well as the third largest population, even if it were led by –and I’m just spit-ballin’ here– a semi-literate psychologically troubled serial-lying bigoted publicity hound, or, for those on the other side of the coin, a man born I think just shortly after the American Civil War, it would still be one of the most influential and formidable countries in the world.

By the way, almost everyone knows China and India are the two largest countries population-wise, but can you name the fourth biggest? Most people can’t.

Okay, okay, quit twisting my arm and stretching my underwear over my head. It’s Indonesia. I don’t know how such a large country is able to run so far under the radar, but it sure seems to be a country few westerners think of very often.

In any case, when we started our life in Portugal, I immediately noticed all the little differences, and since we want to do our best to acclimate and accustom ourselves to this new society, we have generally directed our focus toward looking at those differences in a positive light, rather than spending any time griping about what’s different than back home.

But now that we’ve been here for a handful of years, I think we are comfortable acknowledging the things we’ve noticed that the U.S. does better. This isn’t by any means a comprehensive list, nor is it in any order of importance. Indeed, some of them are pretty trivial. But I like noticing the little differences. Besides, it’s not like you’ll ever read about the hazards of European garden hoses in any ol’ travel guide. Fortunately, baldsasquatch.com isn’t any ol’ travel guide. Actually, I don’t know what it is, frankly, but it is willing to take on the controversial garden hose crisis issue that has plagued Europe since they stopped growing pasta on trees.

Before we begin, I might also add that most of my observations are actually about Portugal, because of course that’s where we live. But I’m saying “Europe” because everyone already expects the United States to do most things better than little ol’ Portugal and its population of not much more than that of New York City. So saying “Europe” makes it look more like two behemoths going at it. In other words, they probably do everything perfect in Germany, but we don’t live there, so nyah.

Just some of the garden hose flotsam and jetsam I’ve accumulated. And I’m gonna have to detach and reattach that spray nozzle again soon as it’s beginning to leak. Did I mention I hate European garden hoses?

Garden Hoses
Okay, so I have to lead with garden hoses since most of you must be wondering what the heck I was even talking about. Here’s the deal: almost every house in America has outdoor spouts with the same simple screw-on hose connection. If you want to string some hoses together, you just screw another hose to the end of the first one. Almost all hoses have that connection built in. And if you want to attach a sprinkler or some such, it’s also built in and you just screw that on too. Easy peasy.

But when it comes to Europe, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some garden supply salesman is currently sailing around the Mediterranean on a 200 foot yacht paid for by the commissions he made by talking an entire continent into a garden hose set-up that would be the envy of a NASA engineer.

To connect a hose or an extension of any kind, you need to manually attach a couple of connections on each end, and in the proper order or you have to start all over. Even that first step isn’t always easy. Or watertight. So not only do you end up with a myriad of parts and pieces, partly due to the fact that there are at least two different hose sizes, even after you finally get everything properly attached, after about five uses they almost always start leaking, and after about ten uses you have to take it all apart and reattach everything because all of a sudden there’s water spewing in every direction except the direction you want it to go.

I really hate European garden hoses.

Electrical Outlets
I’m no electrician, but I am well aware that Europe’s 220v power system has a lot of advantages over America’s 110v system. But when it comes to plugging things in, the American system makes life a lot easier on the consumer. In Europe, the two prong holes might be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, and you can’t always see which way they go if the outlet is on or near the floor. When you’re over 60, getting down on your hands and knees to plug something in is a fifteen minute ordeal punctuated by lots of old people groans. Also, most wall outlets only feature one receptacle. And we still haven’t quite figured out why some plugs will slip right into the holes, and with others you’ve got to jiggle and wriggle and sometimes stomp on to get it to connect, especially with power strips, even if it’s the only thing you’re plugging into it.

Also, because of electrocution concerns, light switches are on the outside of most bathrooms. We’ve gotten used to that, but I gotta figure if the litigious and safety-obsessed United States can figure out how to have light switches inside the bathroom without electrocuting everyone, Europe can too. Of course, maybe the 220v can turn you into Frankenstein’s bride, I dunno.

Street Signs
Thank God for GPS systems on smart phones. Years ago, when I first visited Italy, I didn’t have a smart phone or a GPS. Which meant that when I drove I got lost approximately 5 times an hour. Street signs were random at best, and featured all sorts of different designs and locations, and weren’t even always accurate. Even worse, when we asked Italians for directions, they would just laugh and blow pasta out their nose at us. Italians don’t always appreciate tourists, especially the lost kind.

Street sign poverty is pretty true of Portugal as well. Since we rarely explore without our iPhone’s GPS letting us know where we are at all times, we really don’t even pay attention to street signs anymore anyway, not that we see them very often. But in America, you’d be hard pressed to find any street corner without the ubiquitous green signs telling you what street you’re on. In fact, I daresay there are probably ten road signs in America for every one in Europe. Of course, most Europeans don’t have any idea what a sasquatch is, so there’s a whole lotta signage right there that wouldn’t make it onto a European road.

Real Estate Sales
Imagine trying to buy a house in the U.S. without the MLS service, or Zillow, or lockboxes, or real estate agents with information on pretty much everything on every house on the market: like when it last sold, what it sold for, the exact square footage, and so on. Well, that’s what buying a house in Portugal is like. There is no central clearinghouse of information or listings, in fact the same house might be listed for different prices in different real estate networks. You also have to call and make an appointment to see any house you’re interested in with the buyer and/or his or her real estate agent needing to meet you there. Indeed, a Portuguese real estate agent has to work ten times as hard to find you houses as an American real estate agent does. I’d say Portugal is a good twenty or thirty years behind the US in terms of real-estate-sale efficiency.

Credit Card Fraud
We unfortunately learned this first hand after we discovered our Portuguese bank account had been cleaned out by someone who somehow obtained our bank card information and proceeded to max it out before I even knew what was happening. In the U.S., we would’ve had our money back in a matter of hours. Here, it took nearly a year.

That said, part of the reason for that is America is, shall we say, slightly credit card and consumerist crazed, so if you want to steal card numbers and defraud people, the U.S. is by far the juiciest target in the world. Because fraud became so rampant, eventually the banks, credit card companies, and the government had to step up and protect the consumer. So in a way, America’s efficiency at restoring stolen credit card purchases was a response to a problem of its own making. It’s not as prevalent a problem in Europe, but that’s just by comparison. It certainly exists, and we are living proof. While we got almost all of our money back, waiting for months on end (with very little communication or support) was a bit ridiculous.

Smoked Salmon
This is a category maybe only Pacific Northwesterners will appreciate, but smoked salmon is one of my very favorite foods. They do offer something they call smoked salmon here (salmao fumado), but it’s really lox, which is what you get after soaking salmon in brine and cold-smoking it (whatever that is… I generally try to avoid colds and I certainly wouldn’t be caught dead smoking one). All I know is it’s mushy and doesn’t have that smokey flavor you get by smoking cured, dried salmon in a hot smoker for hours. Genuine Pacific Northwest smoked salmon may be the first thing I look for on a menu when we get back to the states.

Smoking
Speaking of smoking, there’s no question America has led the way in terms of forcing smokers out of buildings and away from entrances, relegating them to dark alleys to guiltily suck down their cancer sticks as if they were modern-day lepers. We’re seeing Portugal slowly move toward some of that; in fact while we’ve been here new laws have been passed restricting smoking inside restaurants (which may sound rather quaint to most Americans).

Of course, before America goes patting itself on the back too much, what America takes away in lung disease it puts right back in heart disease, i.e. mostly because of fast food. So while the Portuguese smoke a lot more than Americans (27.9% to 15.1%), their life expectancy is 81.3 years, while it’s only 78.5 years for Americans. In fact, Americans are the fattest large country in the world. By that I mean while it ranks 14th overall, countries 1-13 are all island countries in the Pacific. I heard from a tour guide that when Hawaiians, for instance, were first discovered by westerners, they were the picture of good health. Even people in their 60s and 70s looked like fit 30 year-olds. The main thing that changed the “Pacific Islander look” to that of the sumo? Cattle. They switched from fish to beef, and as a result became a beefy group of people.

I think this is how they smoke in Andorra and Luxembourg.

Here’s a little more semi-interesting trivia: when I looked up the percentage of smokers, numbers one and two by far were Andorra (Quick! Tell me where Andorra is!) and Luxembourg. Andorra is a tiny country bordering the north of Spain and the south of France, and of course Luxembourg is another tiny landlocked country in Europe, but we’re talking over 6,300 cigarettes per year per person, while number three Belarus clocks in at 2,911. I mean, that’s an enormous difference, well over double! I’m surprised we didn’t notice a haze of smoke over Luxembourg when we visited. Anyway, the U.S. ranks 68th in the world, which is one of the better worldwide comparison rankings I’ve seen for the U.S. as I’ve researched various things over the years. Brunei, by the way, has by far the lowest cigarette consumption in the world. Quick, tell me where Brunei is!

Entertainment
It’s no secret that America is the epicenter of entertainment media. But never is that so apparent to an American than when we travel around the world. The malls play American pop music. The TV is filled with Hollywood movies and American TV shows. Most Portuguese learn English as their second language simply from watching TV. Indeed, even when the young Portuguese swear, they use American swear words, just like in the movies. I know Portugal is a small country, but our favorite TV show comparison is watching “O Preco Certo,” the Portuguese version of “The Price is Right.” One looks like it might have been made for a college class project, the other is full of glam and offers cars and boats as prizes. I think you can guess which is which.

This is a restaurant that just opened up in downtown Sesimbra. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that combination of cuisine before. It sort of shows how haphazard ethnic food can be in Portugal. Is Tahitian Eskimo cuisine next?

Ethnic Food
One thing about Americans, they will embrace just about any cuisine in the world and make it their own. Look over any list of restaurants in any city in America, and you’ll find Mexican, Chinese, Brazilian, British, Irish, German, Italian, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Thai, Indian… well hell, I might as well just like every country there is. In Portugal, I would guess that 80-90% of the restaurants are essentially Portuguese. Sure, you can find anything if you look hard enough; and just as in America, Chinese and Italian restaurants are pretty common. But most restaurants here are single location eateries that serve up a delicious assortment of seafood, pork, and/or beef, accompanied by veggies, rice, and potatoes. Ironically, despite our love for that very same food, in ethnic-food-obsessed America, you almost never hear of a Portuguese restaurant. I’m guessing that’s because Portuguese food is so elegantly simple, and often based on the fact that the seafood they’re serving was often swimming in the ocean that very morning. Maybe it just doesn’t have the “cachet” of Italian pasta or French croissants. Whatever it is, Americans are missing out on some very tasty cuisine!

Conspiracy theories
Americans love their conspiracy theories so much that the government even set up a hotline and resource center to help direct people on how to properly protect their Elvis sightings. True story.

I really don’t think there’s any country in the world that has so many people believing so many different stories that have so little basis in truth. I’m not really sure why that is, but it has become a near epidemic.

But I really only added this as a category to emphasize a little piece of trivia I mentioned above: very few Europeans even know what a Sasquatch is. So that’s a little bit of irony in that after I named my blog Bald Sasquatch, I moved to Europe, where no one has any idea what that means. Which is probably a good metaphor for my writing anyway. Ha!

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!

I often ponder why people, including myself, end up believing the things we do. When it comes to issues like politics, religion, economics, and our favorite NBA team, most of us believe what we do largely because of where we were born and who we were born to. Obviously, most of us eschew at least some of the beliefs that were handed down, but the majority of human beliefs are imbedded in us from outside our own brains, and for the most part we just take them and run with most of them.

I often recall the tale of a young girl asking her mother why she cut the ends of the roast off before placing it in the pan and into the oven, even though the pan was plenty big for the whole roast. The mother replied that it’s how her own mother taught her to do it. So the girl asked grandma the same question, she also received the reply that it was how her mother had taught her. As luck would have it, the great-grandmother was still alive and lucid, and so the question was put to her. Her answer was, “I had to cut off the ends because the pan we had back then wasn’t big enough to hold the entire roast.”

And so it is with many of our long-held beliefs. They’ve been handed down from the previous generation and no one bothers to question many of them. Even though my own brain, for some reason, developed a penchant for questioning everything, I am well aware that there’s a ton of stuff I tend to believe without giving any of it much thought. Most things are as innocuous as the pot roast scenario, but when we vote, invest, or decide where and how to live, it’s not a bad idea to think about, and occasionally review & challenge, the reasons we believe what we believe. Frankly, I don’t thoroughly trust my own opinions on anything, because I honestly have no idea exactly where or why some of them formed. We all get brainwashed in ways we don’t even know happen, and each of us are but one grain of sand on an entire beach of humanity, so a little humility is a good idea.

But when it comes to contentious issues like politics and economics, I believe there really is only one truly accurate way to cross check your belief systems: compare.

Everything else is just an opinion.

There are 195 countries in the world, and 50 American states. Each of them does their own thing, with varying results. When it comes to the United States, every state is part of the same nation, so direct comparisons are far more understandable and accurate than, say, comparing the U.S. to Sudan. It’s also been my experience that a lot of Americans don’t even want to hear about comparisons between Europe and the US, perhaps partly because they’re “foreigners” and all that. So let’s just compare within the states.

In this case, my methodology was to simply Google “rankings by US state” and pick the first three articles that had the appearance of being well researched and not obviously political. It has been my experience that any time I’ve cited a news source as a part of an argument, if that source is not something my debate opponent generally agrees with, the entire argument gets dismissed out of hand for that reason alone. So I thought looking up multiple non-political-agenda sources would help with those efforts.

The sources I used were: US News and World Report’s “best state rankings,” the “Opportunity Index” (I figured that would be good for those who base a lot of their politics on economics and opportunity), and “World Population Review,” which did a state by state comparison of Quality of Life, Healthcare, Education, and Economy. And then I even went to Fox News.

Before I show you the data, here is the God’s honest truth: I went into each of these data sources determined not to have any preconceived notions as to how these comparisons would turn out. If the results of this research would have been divergent with my previously held beliefs, I would surely have altered my opinions, for the simple reason that I believe my one lone mind cannot compete against well-researched comparative facts and data. If, for instance, I held the opinion that the Minnesota Timberwolves have been one of the best basketball teams in the NBA, I’d feel a little sheepish about promoting that when presented with the data that they have had the absolute worst cumulative won/lost record in the NBA since their inception, have never won a championship, and only made the Western Conference finals once and that was back in 2004. So statistics and data do matter, they do illustrate truths, and they should influence your opinions.

Anyway, the following is what I learned. I have all the data on a spreadsheet for anyone who wants to see my exact methodology, but in the interest of brevity and clarity, these are simply the summaries, which consist of averaging the rankings and listing the number of red and blue states in the top and bottom tens. By doing this, we can get a pretty clear and simple picture as to how red and blue states compare to each other.

The Opportunity Index

The Opportunity Index is an annual report developed by Opportunity Nation, a campaign of the Forum for Youth Investment, and Child Trends. The Index provides data that show what opportunity looks like in the United States. Updated annually, the Opportunity Index is a composite tool that measures opportunity in communities using 16 interrelated economic, educational and civic indicators. Instead of including factors beyond one’s control – such as race, IQ or family background — the Index focuses on conditions present in different communities that are susceptible to policy change and public and private sector actions intended to improve outcomes for residents.

  • Blue State Average Rank (lower is better): 18 / Red State Average: 32
  • Blue States in Top Ten: 7 (and 14 out of the top 20) / Red States in Top Ten: 3
  • Blue States in Botton Ten: 2 / Red States in Bottom Ten: 8

Right out of the gate, this doesn’t look too good for the red states so far. After all, the desire for opportunity is often the driving force behind red state thinking. But that was just my first list, and a narrow look at that, so let’s look at some of the other data:

World Population Review

World Population Review turns complex demographic information into easy-to-understand articles on population of countries and cities. Here they rank the “Quality of Life by State.”

Quality of Life

  • Blue State Average Rank (lower is better): 20 / Red State Average: 30
  • Blue States in Top Ten: 8 / Red States in Top Ten: 2
  • Blue States in Botton Ten: 2 / Red States in Bottom Ten: 8

Health Care

  • Blue State Average Rank (lower is better): 14 / Red State Average: 36
  • Blue States in Top Ten: 9 / Red States in Top Ten: 1
  • Blue States in Botton Ten: 0 / Red States in Bottom Ten: 10

Education

  • Blue State Average Rank (lower is better): 20 / Red State Average: 30
  • Blue States in Top Ten: 6 / Red States in Top Ten: 4
  • Blue States in Botton Ten: 3 / Red States in Bottom Ten: 7

Economy

  • Blue State Average Rank (lower is better): 22 / Red State Average: 28
  • Blue States in Top Ten: 6 / Red States in Top Ten: 4
  • Blue States in Botton Ten: 3 / Red States in Bottom Ten: 7

Once again, the blue states manhandle the red states pretty thoroughly, winning every category, sometimes by a lot. In fact, when it comes to health care, the bottom 16 states are all red! New Mexico interrupts the string at 34th (and has only recently turned blue on top of that), and only 2 out of the top 20 are red. It’s pretty obvious if you want decent health care, you’re better off not living in a red state (or voting to turn it blue). Something to consider especially during a pandemic.

US News & World Report:

Founded in 1948, U.S. News & World Report is an American media company that publishes news, opinion, consumer advice, rankings, and analysis. Founded as a newsweekly magazine in 1933, U.S. News transitioned to primarily web-based publishing in 2010. U.S. News is best known today for its influential Best Colleges and Best Hospitals rankings. The following is their “best state rankings.”

This one has more categories, so I condensed the numbers into one easier-to-read chart. You can see that the red states can declare minor victories here, at least in fiscal stability and infrastructure, which appear to be the only categories where being red is equal or better according to this analysis. While it’s not by much, if infrastructure and fiscal stability are the most important components of society for you and you don’t care about crime, health care, the environment, and so on, then maybe a red state is for you.

Because conservatism just got a bit of a slap across the face with a liberal glove, I thought I’d give Fox News a chance to weigh in since they are obviously one of the main sources of information for conservatives. This is what I found when I searched on “Fox News state rankings:”

The Best Countries for Raising A Family: The United States is ranked 34th out of 35 in this category, so I’m not completely sure why Fox was promoting that because it doesn’t really fit their worldview (unless they are trying to infer it’s all the liberals fault, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense when almost all of the countries above the U.S. are more liberal). But I’m more interested in state-by-state for this, so I dug a little further and found another article on Fox entitled “The best and worst states to raise a family.” The source they list only wants to give you the full list if you subscribe because “there are so many requests,” which is BS so screw that, but I did find a site that referenced the top ten and bottom ten from the list (Fox only showed the top and bottom 5). And guess what? Only 2 of the top 10 states in that list are red, and only 2 of the bottom 10 states are blue (one of them being New Mexico, which is actually a little purple-y). So even Fox is admitting that when it comes to raising a family, a liberal state is the best place to be. Or North Dakota or Utah, which are the only red states in the top ten.

Next was the headline: “Rhode Island ranked worst state to do business under Biden Commerce Secretary nominee’s leadership,” obviously meant to denigrate a Democrat nominee (to be fair, blue state Rhode Island did come in 50th on this list). They culled the information from a report entitled, “America’s Top States for Business in 2019.” So now we can get to the heart of one of most important issues for Conservatives: the economy and money.

As you can see by the categories, they’re mostly geared toward one issue: doing business. Basically, here is where the red states have an advantage. When it comes to top states for business, red ekes out a 3.7% victory, 23.8 to 27.5. However, the three categories where the blue states win are: Quality of Life, Education, and Technology & Innovation.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of an effective government or social system, Quality of Life pretty much dominates my thinking as to what is most important, followed by health, education, and being a good place for kids. So while conservatives can be assured that a conservative approach does a bit more for business, shouldn’t there be concern that the price of that is in a lower quality of life? What’s the point of doing 3.7% more business if people’s lives are going to be worse off?

Keep in mind that according to this study, it’s only a comparative 53.6% to 46.4% advantage anyway. The price of that small advantage? Much worse Quality of Life (a whopping 62.8% advantage over the red states’ 37.2%), poorer education systems, lagging behind in Technology and Innovation, substandard health care, more crime, a worse environment, and less opportunity.

By now I started feeling a little bad for the red states, and so dug around even further, but almost every Quality of Life type comparative analysis I could find just does not bode well for conservative states. I even ran across a comparison of America’s Health Rankings by United Health Foundation. I mean, if everyone in the state is already healthy, maybe they don’t need to go to the doctor and so their health care systems don’t look so good as a result. Unfortunately, it’s not only health care, it’s just health. Only one red state (Utah) cracks the top ten on this list, and the bottom 14 are all red. As a degree of support for that information, I even looked up “life expectancy by state.” Death is kind of the final arbiter, you can’t run from it. But by now no one should be surprised that every state in the top 10 is blue (red-state Florida actually ties in 10th; obviously affected by the plethora of retirees there), with the red states occupying the bottom 14 slots. Jeepers. Tell me why is it good again to be a red state? I guess dying earlier is… better?

One of my core philosophies is that you will never be truly wise if the only knowledge you view as wisdom is that with which you already agree. So I seek out people I probably don’t agree with, and try and find out as much as I can. Eventually they get irritated at their beliefs being questioned and leave the discussion. But, maybe someone will read this and challenge my assumptions. I’d like that, but I won’t hold my breath. Seriously, are there any sets of accurate facts or statistics that bolster the right’s claim that being conservative leads to a better place to live? Can someone please show them to me? I love poring through data and statistics, especially if they shed new light on long-held beliefs.

In any case, this exercise at least gives me the confidence that I’m not a complete fool, as is sometimes implied during some of my debates. You can draw your own conclusions from all this, but at the very least, anyone should be able to see that those who believe in liberal concepts have some valid data backing up their thinking. In the end, I did this for myself and myself alone, and I’m satisfied that it was a good cross check. If it helps anyone else, well, that’s just a bonus. I do hope if any conservatives are reading this they can concede that liberals do have at least some credible information from which they can draw their support of their ideology.

Obviously, conservatism also consists of issues such as abortion, immigration, gun control, and the like. But you have to ask yourself why is it that it has to be all or nothing. You can be a liberal who is against abortion, and you can be a conservative who thinks there should be stricter gun laws. But neither side can hide from the only truly accurate way to decide what is the most effective governance, and that’s to compare.

Indeed, the Minnesota Timberwolves may be the worst NBA team during its history, but that’s also only by comparison. I’m sure they have always been able to take down any high school team in the world.


Here are the sources of the data:

Here are the states divided by red and blue:

Red states:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Blue states:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin