Portugal 2022

After a year long planning effort that started in 2021 we took a trip to Portugal last October to see what this country is all about. What started as a casual conversation with a new friend on my radio ended in a two week cultural exchange. When I was chatting with my new friend he let me know where he lived and while we talked I did a ton of research of things to do near where he lives.

Close to his home there was a monument of some sort but I could not make out what it was. So I asked him. He said that it was a monument to Jesus and his mother Mary that had been placed there over 600 years ago. This thing piqued my interest because the USA has only been a country for 246 years at the time so this monument has been there 2.5 times as long as the US has been a country.

This conversation took place early in the morning when most others in the US are sleeping. When I got up the next day I asked my partner if she wanted to go to Portugal and check things out. I knew this was a place she wanted to go so the answer was a very quick “yes!”. So the planning began.

We knew this would be another “slow travel” event for us. We do not like vacation “packages” where things are all planned out for you. There are certainly a ton of those you can do in Portugal that look very nice but that is not our thing. We planned out the days we wanted to go and the basic route we wanted to take and then went to work to make it happen.

The dates we go are not as easy as you’d think. Because we both still work we have to make sure we are not leaving anyone at work in a lurch while we are gone. There are certain times of the year I can not travel because of work obligations. Same for her. That said, we marked our calendars and “backed in” to the travel there.

Other than the monument, I knew very little about Portugal. I would learn there were so many “World Heritage” sites there with history dating pre-Roman eras. That is kind of hard to wrap your brain around because it is so long ago. Again, the USA doesn’t have this kind of history so this is going to be a good history lesson for us.

Having been there now over 6 months ago the route we took, the maps we used and the places we visited make much more sense than they did during the planning stages. The whole country is about the size of Indiana and is adjacent to Spain and just north of Gibraltar.

Roughly, our plans were to fly into and out of Lisbon and for the longest time that was all we planned. We had days we would be there so we booked the plane tickets round trip. Even though we had no place to stay and no route decided we now had plane tickets to get there and back. That put the planning into a little more urgency than we had up to this point.

Here are my “highlights” take on our trip we took to Portugal. I figured you would want to look at the map and maybe send this information to others. The map makes much more sense to me now.

We did eventually figure out what we wanted to do and the number of days we would spend in each location we would stop for the night. Our itinerary was roughly as follows. I have provided hyperlinks to most of the places we visited.

  • Fly to Lisbon and stay 2 days around this large city.
  • Drive to Evora and stay 2 days
  • Drive to Vale de Figueira and stayed 3 days
  • We would eat lunch in a mom/pop restaurant in Pinhão (Touristy)
  • We would spend some time near Castelo Melhor viewing ancient rock drawings there (15,000+ years old).
  • One of the places I really enjoyed was São Xisto in the Douro River valley. We spent 3 days in this area.
  • We took a drive up to Gulmarae which is really where Portugal started as a nation state.
  • Then down to Porto for a couple of days. Nice but super crowded and touristy. Lots of history. We stayed in the old/original city there.
  • Then Colmbra, Ourém (lunch), Fatima (to see all the Catholic happenings) ending up in an AirBnB in the country.
  • A friend of mine, lives in Nazaré, sent me a text inviting us to stop by if we had some time. That is the place where world class surfers do their thing on the crazy waves there. Look that up on YouTube. We would visit them in Nazaré for an evening. It was fun catching up with them who we had last seen in the late 1990’s.
  • That was the end of our journey. From there we went back to Lisbon to catch a flight home.

The flights to/from USA are long but easy. Customs gave us no problems on either side. I have “Global Entry” and an electronic passport which makes going through the system easy and fast. As you know I am a photographer so I have tons of photos if you are interested in what it may look like there. I had problems flying my drone due to regulations that I didn’t not plan well in advance of the trip. Didn’t think it was going to be an issue but it is. They have very tightly controlled air space.

The people are nice and accommodating. We had no issues anywhere. It is a safe country but I’m told there are pick pockets which we never encountered. The people we encountered were all very kind. The larger cities have some of the same issues we have in the USA but felt safe to me.

Get your money in the airport. Don’t wander the country without cash. Once inside, it is very difficult to get Euros with US dollars. Take the hit up front and deal with the exchange rate or have a plan otherwise. I used my credit card everywhere and never had an issue. But some people do not take credit cards.

Douro River as seen from São Xisto

They do not tip for anything in Portugal. It is hard to get used to but they can be offended if you give them cash outside of a normal sale. Not everyone, but many. We did tip a guide and when we used Uber which they seemed to appreciate. The guide, in particular, only made money from tips so that was helpful for him.

Cost for things is about 25-50% of the USA rates. Food is markedly cheap. The only thing more expensive in Portugal than anywhere in the USA is the fuel which was about $8/gallon while we were there. But you pay for liters so it feels like the per gallon price, just 3 times as expensive.

Driving is easy but the streets are TINY. Signs are easy to adapt to but some of them are weird. I recommend reading up on the signage before you leave to have that in your head before you start driving. There are so many 1-way streets that I tangled with some while we were there. Parking in big cities very hard. Pay in advance, reserve your spot for easy in/out. I can see why people would not want to drive there yet we did not have any issues. If you are comfortable driving a manual transmission and have good situational awareness you will find driving there quite easy.

We were there to chill. And chill we did. Never in a hurry. Never rushed.

As I mentioned above, what started all this for us was a guy I talked to on my radios back in 2021. We did end up meeting him and having a nice long conversation with him. Super nice guy. We did this on our last night there. I got to see the monument I had seen on Google maps and met my new radio friend at the same time.

Rainbow over Douro vineyards

We were quite the spectacle in his neighborhood. It is a tiny place and all the neighbors came out to see what we were about. they helped us reach out to Tony who was not home when we arrived. He had no idea we were coming so him not being home was not a surprise. When his neighbor called him he insisted we stay and meet with him at a coffee shop in his town. Which we did.

Tony claims we made his whole year. He was over the moon that we dropped by and spend a couple of hours with him. Really, that was what Portugal was about. It was an uneventful, history laden, quite, relaxing time with kind people everywhere we turned.

Someone has a sense of humor in downtown Porto

We enjoyed Portugal and would like to go back someday if this life allows us the time to do so. In the meantime, we are working on the next International adventure that we hope to take sometime this year. It is about the same distance away but currently with a little political unrest. Still, we’ll keep on planning and probably go there anyway.

Warm spring rain.

Before the sun went down today I wanted to get some grass cut. When I started it was warm and dry but on the horizon I could tell it was raining. The rain didn’t really look like it was going to come meet me but about half way into my task it really started to rain.

It was one of those rains that wasn’t overcast; just showery. I was thinking, “Why don’t I just park this thing and be done with it for the day?” I was soaked all the way through all my clothes and getting cold riding on the mower. “Just another 15 minutes and I’ll be done,” says my internal voice (like it always does).

Then I looked up and saw a full, very bright and vibrant double rainbow. By the time I got my phone out, figured out how to get into the camera app in the rain this was all I could capture:

Just like that, the sun went back behind the clouds and the rainbow was gone.

I was sitting next to my bees, in the rain with nothing more important to do.

I’m reminded to slow down and enjoy the moment. It may not seem like it but little bits of nirvana surrounds us all the time. Everything is as it should be.

Today nirvana was a rainbow sitting in the rain at the end of a busy work day. All I had to do was look up.

Saying goodbye.

Saying goodbye is never easy. Some are harder than others.

Where did the time go?

Saying goodbye to Olivia.

I wouldn’t be so bad if she weren’t 1,500 miles from here and could pop in anytime she wanted. It’s back to work for all of us in the coming week. The holiday is about over and time to get back at life.

Gloria is off to a wedding. Helen and I are home with the cats. The cats want to be in someone else’s home. Well, two of them do anyway.

After getting up at 4am I think I’ll go to bed early tonight. Or not. Depends on what I get involved with between now and then. Ha. It always depends.


Quiet but full day.

Today is September 19, 2017. A pretty normal day.

It was a quiet but very full day. I spent most of the day on the phone on work related projects that I needed to complete today. I don’t normally talk about work but that’s what I do during the week from the time I wake until the time I sleep. I may play in between but I think about work all the time.

Speaking of playing, I was able to fly  both my drone and RC plane today. It was one of those super harsh sunny days where there is no clouds in the sky. On these days it’s super hard to take a good picture that is not all washed out. It’s hard to look up at what you are controlling from the ground and for the same to look down and take a decent photo.

Of all the photos I took during the day this the one I liked the most.

Sunny day in Virginia, September 19, 2017

I post in Facebook as well but Facebook will down sample the image and make it look like junk. If you touch the one here you’ll get a full photo that you can fill your screen with and really see what it looks like. Even this one is downsampled a bit. It’s only a JPEG image out of a GOPRO 3 camera. It’s amazing what that little camera will do. When it’s hung under a drone and lifted into the air I just think it changes everything about photography.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a picture from the bottom of a drone. It was way, way before it was the cool thing to do. I was mesmerized. I mentioned to Gloria that this is going to be a big thing when it catches on. And it did catch on. People like Casey Neistat became quite famous flying drones and publishing videos.

One of the things I did today was work on my weather station. The Raspberry Pi computer had a disk failure and won’t boot. A year ago I bought some “cheap” microSD cards to use as disks. They have all failed so that didn’t pay off. Name brands for me from now on. I’ll pay a little extra for those things now.  None of the SanDisk brands have failed even after years of use. They are not hard to fix but it takes too much time. I’ll have my weather station back working again tomorrow.

Mongrel and I didn’t go for our normal walk today. Instead we played in the grass. Well, he played in the grass while I troubleshot my weather station some during one of my breaks from work. Watch it to the end if you want to see what it looks like for a cat to run through grass like a deer … but he’s only a cat.

We won’t tell him he’s any different.

It’s quiet here. Everyone is sleeping. Tomorrow is on the horizon and should be similar to today.

I hope you’ve had a nice day today. If not, I hope you have a better day tomorrow.


Clearing my cobwebs

This weekend was about goofing off. Goofing off as much as possible. It all started like this:

… sunrise September 17, 2017

Officially I had to do some volunteer work for my radio club but that was over before 10am Saturday which left the rest of the day to do something I’ve had in my calendar for a while now: The Flying Circus.

We didn’t stay long but we made a day of getting there and back like we tend to do now and again. Typical trip down I-81 where you have to be crazy to be with crazy. But it was OK with both of us in the car together to stay distracted. Although I think my driving drives Gloria crazy. She has to listen to me postulate about statistics of queuing and crowding; the mathematical advantage of being in a small car in a big car world. 210 horse power helps but not as much as being small.

The venue for the RC event is atop a hill south of Covington, VA where people are flying all kinds of different aircraft from fixed wing to drones and even some cars and the like. But it’s mostly about flying something. It’s put on by Jeremiah at Stone Blue Airlines. Jeremiah owns the place there in Lynchburg two hours away from Covington. He’s helped me outfit some of my RC gear here that I fly. It’s cool that he’s made a living out of his passion. It’s really hard to tell when he is working and when he is playing. Which is I think the point to life.

After looking through my FPV goggles at other people flying we took back off for home in hopes of getting back at a decent  hour. We lumbered along the back way home up SR220 through some really pretty West Virginia and Virginia back roads. After a dinner at the Fireside Cafe it was slabbing it back home as fast as we could once the sun went down and both of us grew tired.

Gloria had a big morning on Sunday and presentation in the afternoon so we needed to get her back and rested. She had a good, productive presentation on how to make Kombucha. She makes really good Kombucha!

Not me. I took the day (Sunday) mostly off. Besides a 5 mile run at sundown I really didn’t do much but goof off with electronics, some photography, RC flying of various types, radio. Some people have said that my goofing off looks a lot like work. I resemble those remarks.

Oh, radio. I chatted with a “DXpedition” station from the Czech Republic operating in Mauritania using call sign 5T5OK. I was parked on a 14 mhz frequency when I noticed the activity on the spectrum scope. Turns out these guys were testing their station and I was able to snag them in a “pile up” on the first call once I figured out how they were set up on the split frequency. We really didn’t chat long and they went on to making more contacts. It’s about 4,200 miles from here to there. I’m always amazed that I can just “key up” and talk to a totally different country on the planet. Makes the world seem really small. I was on and off the radios all day today which was particularly fun.

I’m working on an adjustable square wave generator circuit with a 555 timer chip. I’m not terribly good with electronics so this is half learning and half doing. I want to create a string of LEDs that use a transistor to switch between on and off at a rate that I can control with the timer chip. The circuit is gonna look something like this:

555 timer circuit

I got my bench power supply back from the shop so I can start building stuff again. Or breaking stuff, depending on how badly I mis-calculate things like voltage, current and the like. My method is less “Ohms Law” and more “Poke-n-Prod” until the blue smoke comes out. When I see blue smoke it’s generally back to the drawing board. It’s a good way to learn but leads to a lot of dead parts.

I’m sure I could buy the circuit from China for a buck but what’s the fun in that? I have this idea on making an LED string look like it’s pumping electricity like water  through a tube. I want to vary the alternating lights at a rate and amplitude I can control. Yea, boring.

Mongrel and I got to walk together some today. When we weren’t moving he was chasing his tail. I can’t tell if he is goofing off like cats can do or if he’s frustrated that he can’t control it. One thing’s for sure is that he is very transparent because of that tail which exposes his current mood. The little biting flies were bugging the crap out of us both too.

We were also still a lot today. It’s interesting to watch Mongrel. He generally sits facing opposite of me. If I were to lay down he sits on top of me. Must be some weird instinct thing going on there. Seems to watch out after me when we are together. Anything out of the ordinary while he is on watch will render a “growl”. Could be a dog ½ mile away or a person riding a horse. He just lets me know it’s out there.

Watching everything that is moving.

When all that is done and we are back in the quiet, cool of the house where his guard comes down he starts to slow down after some dinner. Quietly protesting that he doesn’t want to be inside he climbs in his box next to my desk. He starts off looking at me. Then falls asleep.

“In the safety of my box”

Soon he is on his back with his feet in the air. This cat can sleep like none other I’ve ever met. And will sleep like that all night long.

I hope you’ve had a day that was fun like ours. And that you are back in your safe place where ever that may be.

I’m done goofing off. Work tomorrow. Headed to my box.

Camera mode and the universe.

Yesterday I was reading yet another article about what “mode” to keep one’s camera in so that it is always on the ready. The consensus is that no “pro” would shoot anything other than in full manual mode in raw format. The stories go something like, “5 reasons why you should alway keep your camera in full manual mode…” blah blah. It’s all BS.

In the last year I’ve learned that capturing the shot is the most important thing. Forget how the camera is set. Set the darned thing in a way that when you pick it up the next time you are ready to capture the shot when the shot happens so that you are not “fiddling” trying to figure it out … sometimes in complete darkness.

Tower #2 in the back yard with the Milky Way as a backdrop.

You just can’t predict where you’ll be and there is just no such thing as a perfect camera setting. And you don’t need a “pro” camera to take good pictures. You don’t need the latest technology. You need to get in the back yard and take the picture with the shit you got right now. That’s how this works.

So touch the picture above and look at the details. It’s not like standing in my back yard and feeling the dew on your face as it moves about in the cool breeze. But you’ll get the idea.

What’s in your back yard at night?

My day; September 10, 2017

I woke with no specific plan and no place I really wanted to go.

After reading a bit I got up, showered and headed out the door after feeding the cats and eating a light breakfast. Mongrel was all over me to go for a walk so off we went. Like our other walks we stopped at the same trees, inspected everything we’ve inspected before just to be sure and walked essentially the same path as we always do. There’s always something new to see and interesting lights to capture.

Me and my shadow.

Mongrel is content just to be with me. But we’ve got to figure out how to travel in a car together if I am to satisfy his need to be around humans all the time. He’s not a fan of the car.

I ended up in Shepherdstown, WV where I visited with Timothy a little as he played guitar on the steps of the old McMurran Hall. His message is the same; be patient, read the bible, be kind to others, do as Jesus would do.

Timothy with two books: bible and music selections.

I like his guitar sound. But we mostly talked.

On the way home I hung close to the Potomac river and the tiny roads next to the C&O Canal. I stopped at places I normally just drive past to take a few pictures.

Potomac River at 39°23’17” N 77°43’59” W

BTW, do you like the picture above in landscape or this picture below of the same spot but in portrait?

Potomac River at 39°23’17” N 77°43’59” W

I tend to like the landscape photos but this one shows more of the sky and clouds. This part of the Potomac is dammed up south of here near Harpers Ferry that allows people to use normal boats here. There were several pontoons and others mixed with a kayak or two.

C&O Canal at 39°23’17” N 77°43’59” W

The C&O canal extends as far east as Georgetown, District of Columbia all the way up to Cumberland, Maryland. It may go further up towards Ohio but I’m not sure. It’s a long way. You could spend several days on a bike on this if you wanted. It’s said to be slightly declining as you go east. However, when I get on it it is uphill in both directions. I can’t figure that out.

What day would be complete without several ascents into the trees?

Mongrel very focused during his tree acrobatics

Gloria came home tonight from her trip with her mom and sisters. We got to walk together before the sun went down. It was fun to hear about her travel to Cleveland, the restaurants, boat, people and other stories. She let me try to take some portraits of her.

Weary traveler back home – I love her smile.

I’m trying to teach myself how to augment some of my photography with a flash. Flash photography is something I just haven’t spent much time doing over the years. You wouldn’t think you’d need a flash on a sunny day like today … but it helps when the sun is in the sky like this.

And if I could fit just one more thing into the day it would always have something to do with an RC plane or drone. Mongrel joins me in these 20-30 minutes flying sessions. As I bring the plane in slow for landing he will chase after it like it’s a rabbit. It’s pretty funny to watch.

Mongrel ready for “final approach” and landing chase – the plane sounds like an owl when it flies (very quiet). – Photo credit: Gloria Westerman

I started with no plan and ended up with a full day. It’s dark now. I’ll finish this blog and go down and do radio for an hour or two before I finally give in for he day. I did as many of the things I like to do as I could. I was with as many people that I love that I could. Tomorrow’s a “work day” but I hope it is as interesting as today.

Drive to new places

Today we decided not to follow our normal path on a road less traveled. Instead, we got on a set of roads we’ve never traveled not knowing for sure  exactly how to get to where we wanted to go.

To start we were looking for some lunch in Charles Town, WV at a place we’ve eaten before. We didn’t understand why it was so hard to find until we go there and saw that it was closed. It was Mediterranean food where we’ve only eaten once but it was one of the best meals I’ve had in some time. It’s a bummer to see it go.

We ended up across the street at a diner run by Grandma. All of the comfort foods you could want were under that roof. Even an egg salad sandwich on white toast with fries and a sweet tea. I’m definitely going back there!

Grandmas’s Cafe

We set out for “Sleepy Creek Lake” in West Virginia to see what is there. Maybe a place to camp, take some photos, scope out some new motorcycle roads. It’s not far from home. The roads between home and Charlestown are well traveled for us. Beyond that it was all new to us.

Yesterday I put a 50mm lens on my camera to play with depth of field. This is something I haven’t done in some time and want to relearn. The lens I have is super nice and lets ton of light in to play with. Unfortunately, it taught me some lessons that I’m going to have to pay closer attention to. In this panoramic view of the small lake you can see the focal point is in the center of the lake but I had it so tight nothing beyond that in the background or foreground is in focus. Oh well, next time I’ll be more careful.

Playing with depth of field

On the way to the lake we randomly came upon a grass air strip that was also home to the local RC flying club. We turned in to find two gentlemen taking a break from flying their gas powered scale aircraft. It’s a ton of well groomed land and apparently a very active club. Something to check out It’s called the PropBusters RC Airplan Club.

RC Airport and home to PropBusters RC Club.

I was headed out to take pictures of the sun going down tonight and saw this plant on the table reaching for the last rays of the day. I really don’t know what kind of plant this is but it has very long arms reaching as far out as it can to soak up all of the sun’s rays.

Solar power

Speaking of sunsets, the sun was very harsh today in a mostly clear sky. In order not to get a totally washed out image I had to pull the “stand behind a tree for shade” trick. Even still, there was a ton of light to deal with.


I was about to rotate the wheels on my car when I saw the moon rise in the eastern sky. You can’t do much with a 50mm non-zoom lens so this is all I can do to show the moon today.


Sock joined me for some of my picture taking. Sockies is getting older these days. Not moving as fast as she used to. Here eyes are getting a bit cloudy, she’s missing a tooth or two but otherwise doing OK for a cat her age.


In that photo you can see the effect of strong depth of field. Her eye are super focused and detailed but everything else is out of focus. That was taken at f2.5 at 1/800th of a second with an ISO of 80. Clearly it’s letting a ton of light end to be able to use these settings. And it’s an f1.4 lens so the focal point can be even that much more narrow. It’s very, very hard to shoot a moving target with this kind of a narrow depth of field.

It was a fun Labor Day holiday. We did as much as we could with the time we were given. We’ve found a new place to get some grub and a few new roads to explore more. Maybe even a place to pitch a tent for the night.

What will we find tomorrow?


Hi girls. This will be a private post.

I was sorting through photographs the last few days and came across this one. It’s just such a beautiful picture to me which has in it so much of what I enjoy in life: quiet days, mountains, summer, cool breeze, flying, nature, beauty, rebirth … the list goes on.

I wasn’t looking for butterflies to image this day. They just happened to be everywhere I looked. I was at this place on Skyline Drive near home when I saw this one just going back and forth on this plant. It appeared to me to be a new butterfly. It’s wings were still unfurling and it seemed to be orienting to it’s surroundings completely oblivious to me. I was able to spend 15 minutes with the butterfly before I moved on and left it there.

This was actually taken with my iPhone. I did that because I thought this butterfly might take off before I had the opportunity to take it’s picture so I didn’t want to grab my camera from the front seat of my car to capture the image. I did ultimately use my big camera and got some amazing photos of this butterfly but this was my first image. Lately I’ve learned that taking the photo is often more important than taking the perfect photo. Never miss that first opportunity! I just put my cameras on “AUTO” and start shooting. If I have time to be an artist … I’ll know when it comes.

Butterfly at Rattlesnake Point Overlook – Skyline Drive

Touch the image and make it as big as the screen you are looking at right now. It’s just such an amazing picture to me I wanted to share it with you. It tells a story of life, of distance, of effort and of purpose. This butterfly didn’t choose this path but I know for certain it is on it’s path, whatever that means for this butterfly.

You three are no different to me. I know the path is not always easy but it is your path.  I hope you spread your wings a little today as you continue to tell your story. Enjoy a cool, summer breeze and if your path takes you to a overlook as beautiful as this I hope you can stop for a while and take it all in.

I’m off to write more of mine.


PS: This is where I took the photo:

Sunrise August 28 2017

This is the sunrise out my office window this morning. You know the drill, I wasn’t up to see it personally but my Raspberry Pi was.

The sun is moving into the southern sky as fall approaches. There is a very pronounced Coriolis effect going on in the clouds while the fog moves around this very dewey morning.

I was up early working with an arborist to try to figure out if we could save three ash trees that are being consumed by ash borer bugs brought in from China. I learned this morning that 90% of all of the ash trees in Virginia are dead or dying.

One of our trees is gone. His suggesting for the others is to enjoy them while they are around and plant something else in their spot.

I may not give in so easily.