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.

Its been a while.

I noticed my last blog post was from April 2021, a few months shy of two years ago. I am sitting here in front of a fire on a cold winter evening (3Feb23) contemplating everything that has happened since then. After all that has transpired, I figured I’d start creating again but not exactly sure how or when.

April 2021 was a good month for me professionally. I was working on things that were both satisfying and impactful for the company I work for. I had uncovered an opportunity that would be significant progress for all of us. Those were exciting times.

We were also in the middle of a full blown pandemic for most of this time. Officially, it is not quite over. Neither I nor anyone I personally knew had been sick with COVID-19 during the height of the global infection as the whole world was basically still in “lock-down”. The news constantly reported all the bad things that were happening, all the people that had died or were dying. At this point it was in the millions world wide who had perished from this disease. No one knew what was going on. No one knew how to make it stop. There were no vaccines to give to people that were proven to stop this pandemic from getting worse. Everyone was doing the best they could to navigate these times. Looking back, it was not easy mainly because no one had answers.

The company I work for was not allowing people to travel at all. In order to travel we had to have permission. And even with permission no one was traveling by air. It was basically once-off meetings in person where it made sense to do so. We all had spent 100’s of hours on Zoom calls moving forward the best we could. It was working but it was not normal compared to all my years past.

We had been in the pandemic for a solid 12 months now and things were starting to change a little. Some states were considering “opening” up a little by relaxing some of the restrictions if you had the vaccine (which I hadn’t yet). If people were high risk or otherwise able to get a vaccine it would soon be available for those people who go them first. It would not be available to me for some time to come.

So we mask up. We go about our time doing the best we can hoping that the virus runs it’s course without affecting those we love. No one we knew had been sick yet still we were being careful.

It is May 2021 and I am excited to go on a motorcycle ride with my dad, brother, family and some friends. Motorcycling being what it is, you are outside in the elements with the wind in your face. Hardly any way for the virus to take hold in that environment. We were all careful to mask up when around others and went on this ride together.

Dad, Katherine, Paul and John

There are some notable firsts in the photo above.

It was the first time Katherine would ride her own motorcycle on a tour like this. It was the first time that I had been terrified for someone else’s safety on a motorcycle! It was the first time in some time and the first time in 2021 that we had all be able to get together. It was the first time we were in large gatherings of people outside in a year. It was the first time I’d seen so many people and not one of them wearing a mask like we all had the year past.

There were some notable lasts. This is the last group ride we will do together as a family. This is the last motorcycle related trip I would make with my father. It would be the last time I rode motorcycles with my brother, my niece Katherine or Paul’s friend John.

It would be the last time I would be with my brother before he died of complications related to COVID-19.

The next few months after this trip are a blur. Two weeks after this trip I would meet some friends I hadn’t seen in some time. I went on a solo trip on my motorcycle in Arkansas and go on another solo trip to see a band I enjoy on YouTube at a Branson, Missouri venue. May, June, July and August would come and go with most of that time spent on my professional career. Fairly nominal life as I recall being laser focused on some of my work. I had a lot of things going on at work and it was consuming most of my time.

In early September my immediate family spent some time together in New Mexico near Taos and then in the Denver/Boulder area for a week or so. I was able to ride my motorcycle solo on some truly epic roads with some of the most awesome weather I had in a while. Those were fun and special times. We were still masking up but we were able to spend some time together which was super fun. I would not be vaccinated for two more weeks so I was still being very careful around others.

After that vacation I had to hurry back home to finish up some work I was doing in Florida. I was home for a week and then off to the Sunshine State. Everywhere I went it was very environmentally controlled. By then I had my first vaccine and for those vaccinated the rules were a little more relaxed. Masks were becoming optional but still widely worn in my circles. Being one of the only people with a vaccine in my company, in my group in particular, I was able to travel when others who either didn’t have the vaccine or refused to get the vaccine were not able to travel. Because of the low level of vaccinated people on my work team I was incredibly busy at work covering many bases there.

It was on this trip that I would learn of my brother being admitted to a Texas hospital in a treatment area for those with COVID-19. He was in an isolation hospital unit for those with infectious and contagious disease. I would learn that his condition before being admitted to the hospital was grave.

Once in the hospital the doctors were able to get him back in this world but it was not going to be easy because he had issues that got him there that needed to be dealt with. Some were addressable but the COVID-19 was not. He had COVID-19 (DELTA) and there was nothing anyone could do other than to make sure he was hydrated and let the virus take it’s course.

That was the hope. It was September. Life was busy and getting busier. Now our family has a “man down” 1,500 miles from my home. Seasons are changing. Warm air is being replaced with cold. I left Florida for home where I would stay for a while.

Mid November my youngest was home and wanted to meet a friend in Blacksburg so I rented a fast plane and took her to meet them there. These trips in the planes with my family and friends are always fun. They can also be “interesting” and this one had its excitement. Like with an aircraft of this type they can be complicated to learn all their quirks. The flight was fun and safe after dealing with one of those quirks. Winter weather was coming which always puts a twist on flying. Headwinds there and tailwinds back got me to/from Blacksburg in a hurry. Coming back home I was traveling 200 m.p.h over ground in this plane. Not bad for a cruise speed of somewhere around 150.

Even though things felt like they were getting back to normal the entire world was still in lock-down. It was feeling like we were getting through this pandemic. I am still optimistic that things would change for Paul. Unfortunately, his situation is getting much worse.

For the first few days Paul was in the hospital we were able to text one another. He would tell me that it was hard to move around. That it was hard to breath but that it was also hard to explain why. He would tell me in these texts that he could not take a full breath of air and that it was hard not to panic when doing so. He was hot. Then cold. Sleepless. Tired. Mostly tired. He told me that just eating a meal or drinking a glass of water was exhausting and took all of his energy.

Being somewhat of a digital hoarder I keep things like texts from others indefinitely. Mostly they help me with my “diary” of current events and help me remember what people say on a normal, sometimes busy, day. Usually it’s all benign things, logistics and such. So I do have all the texts from Paul. I’ve struggled with the decision to post them here or not. I ultimately decided not to do that in its entirety but do want to share some of them.

Did I tell him I loved him?

We tended to text each other quite a bit but it could be sporadic with gaps in between busy times in life. The last normal text I got from him was us discussing 3D printed parts for drones. Ya know, normal stuff for people with similar interests.

Him: “I just bought a 3D printer… do you have a joystick protector for your drone? Just made one for myself…. making another.. happy to make you one or more if you want one. Me: “Yes, but I had to buy mine! :)”

He was like that. He would find things that he liked and introduce them to others. I found him always wanting to share cool ideas and things he was working on. He was never afraid of trying something new. That is a trait of our family.

Back in the hospital Paul was following all the instructions from the nurses there. Everyone was hopeful that this would be a short lived problem caught early enough that with the proper help from the hospital staff he would be back home and getting back to normal life.

That would not happen. He sought help too late. This would have to run its course.

Soon the text replies would slow. And then they would stop. After stopping I would send more texts hopeful that once he was rested enough he would reply back. He would not reply back to me again.

5-6 October 2021 Messages

On the morning of 6 October 2021 I would learn that he could not breath on his own. His oxygen levels were too low and he decided on his own to be intubated allowing him some time to rest under the direct care of a doctor without the stress and anxiety he was experiencing.

// There is a lot missing in between these written words. My focus in life would suddenly change. Life would become consuming. I do not remember or write down a lot of detail from the next few weeks that did not pertain to figuring out what was happening to Paul. //

Although I would see him still alive in this world again he would never return fully back to us. Soon, his health would deteriorate. There would be nothing else anyone could do. It was clear he would pass soon and the only reason he was still with us was a breathing machine and narcotics. The latter were doing him no favors. He could not breath on his own. There was no hope of him ever being able to breath on his own again without a machine. And even with a machine his quality of life would likely be poor.

Five minutes before I said goodbye, I saw this hanging on a wall in the hospital. A reminder to lead where you are.

After many days of medical heroics, medicine and medical help had run its course. On the evening of 19 November 2021 his closest family would gather together at the hospital to say goodbye. His breathing machine was removed and he passed with all of us there with him. Frankly, one of the hardest things I have had to endure.

Paul would die the Friday before Thanksgiving, November 19, 2021 at 18:58 CT near his Hutto, TX home.

“Did I tell him I loved him?”, I kept thinking. This was one of the the weird thoughts that comes to mind in a time of crisis like this. The answer was “yes” and I had the texts to prove it. That fact made things a little easier, but not much.

This entire blog sucks to write. I am not one to write stories without happy endings. It is a shitty end to a story none of us wish would have to be written. He left behind 15 children, grand children, parents, a brother, sisters, extended family and many close friends who loved him. He left this planet way, way too early.

But left he did. There is no going back and undoing anything at this point. What has been said is said. What has been done is done. Any missing pieces are left to us to sort through on our own. There will be many days of introspection to come.

On the evening of Paul’s death, after everyone left the hospital floor, my parents and I stood outside of the hospital in the parking lot. We asked each other, “What do we do now?”

What do you do when a family member dies? I have no fucking clue.

I still don’t know.

That night we shared dinner together and left the next day to pick up all the pieces of this crazy few months of life we have just lived through. It sucks. There is no way around that. I think we are all moving forward the best way we know how.

Paul with his daughter, Sarah, circa 1991

Adios, Paul Westerman. You are missed. See ya on the flip side.

Paul’s Immediate family; Me, my sisters, parents and spouses.

I am going to go back to creating. See you on the next blog post.

Down time

Kind of. We decided to go down to Florida to change the temperature for a week.

St. Augustine, Florida
Windy yet placid

I didn’t take the week off from work. Instead I just worked in Florida. It’s one of the cool things about my job. Technically I can work anywhere as long as I have good Internet access.

On this day I sat in a vehicle near the ocean and watched the wildlife while I worked. I saw things I don’t normally see. For 15 minutes I watched a family of dolphins body surf the waves. I really wanted to take photos of them but I was presenting in a meeting which did not afford me that opportunity. It was so interesting and deliberate. One of them would go on its back while the others on their bellies. They were clearly playing with each other.

Then a few minutes after that I noticed a seagull testing his scooping skills. It would pick up a stick, glide up in the wind then drop the stick. As the stick fell it would swoop down and try to catch it before it hit the ground. I watch them try to get his seagull friends to join in but none did. For 20 minutes this game continued.

One of the days it was 85ºF and we were able to ride a motorcycle all around St. Augustine. The other days it was chilly and cloudy so we decided to stay “inside”. It was nice to slow down, eat seafood and camp in another State Park. Go here for a map of Matanzas State Forrest.

It’s been the weirdest year.

First it was moved into 2021. They must have gotten together and said, “To heck with it, let’s move it into 2022 because 2021 is shaping up to be a lot like 2020!”

I’ve never planned a concert this far out.

I checked my calendar and it turns out we are free.

Comet Neowise 2020

2020 has been an interesting year to say the least. One thing that hasn’t changed is the Universe. I work to keep that in mind as I live from day to day.

From my front porch every evening this summer Jupiter and Saturn have been some of the brightest objects in the sky. Using Gloria’s telescope I’ve been able to clearly see the rings of Saturn and the storms of Jupiter along with many of their moons.

Even with nothing than a regular set of binoculars Jupiter is so close to Earth that the moons are clearly visible without much aid. With a zoom lens, camera and tripod one can take a picture of them without much difficulty.

Then there is comet Neowise. This one snuck up on us. Somehow we can put landers on the moon but not know when a comet is orbiting the sun. Granted, the last time it was here was 6,766 years ago. And it won’t be back for another 6,766 years.

That being said, I wanted to find this comet and see if I could capture it from my own front yard. The biggest problem I have with some of the astronomy stuff is that it happens at like 5 in the morning. That’s not always appealing to me. I’ll do it but it would be way more convenient if it was like around midnight.

And, as it turns out, that was going to happen. All I had to do was wait a couple of weeks and I could get a view in the northwest sky as it set with the sun after 10pm.

The first time I saw it was with binoculars. It was so much larger than I was expecting that I had overlooked it for 30 minutes. And it was much more faint than I was expecting especially as it was dodging in and out of the clouds. With my older eyes and the less than ideal viewing conditions this was going to be challenging to take a clear photo of this thing at night.

With a 600mm lens I knew that I could only keep the shutter open for about 5 seconds to keep the blur at a minimum. That means the ISO has to be fast and the aperture wide open. This is going to produce a grainy/noisy photo and if it’s not tack sharp it not going to come out well.

Focusing in the night sky is not easy. Because my eyes are not the best at determining the focal distance like they were when I was 16 I have to use the camera to help me by focusing on stars in the sky and getting them sharp and then assuming that the comet will be sharp in that background. One tiny camera shake and the photo will be ruined.

300 images later, I picked the 3 I liked the best.

Color image of Comet Neowise.

The color image above shows the green core of the comet against some of the stars on a very cloudy night. I was never afforded a totally dark sky view of the comet while it could be seen from here.

Color image of Comet Neowise just above the horizon.

When the comet was behind the clouds I turned my camera around to see if I could take a decent photo of Jupiter and maybe some of it’s moon. Keep in mind I only have a Nikon camera and lens on a tripod so this is not a telescope or anything fancy.

Jupiter and 4 of its moons.

The picture of Jupiter doesn’t look like much at first glance. But I was shocked that I could get such a good photo of the planet and some of it’s moons. If you zoom into the photo you will see that one of the moons is blue. I think this is Europa which has high water content.

If you didn’t get to see it this trip around the sun unfortunately you are now going to have to take my word that it was there. Or use better camera gear than I have.

It was a fun evening I shared with my family. Interesting time in an interesting year looking at cool astronomy objects.

If you get bored, look up. The comet is about gone but many other object are up there. The sky can offer some interesting things to think about. Maybe give you break to think about other things for a while.

Making hay June 2020

This cathartic video from above shows 5 minutes of the process of making hay on our farm. There is no music or narrative. Just make it the size of your screen and enjoy the process.

We gathered 34 round bales of hay in this first cut of 2020.

Things generally slow down this time a year. With the virus things are REALLY slow right now. Everything I’d normally do in the spring, summer and fall is cancelled. There are no vacations planned or other distractions that would normally happen in a summer. This doesn’t look to change before the end of the year.

Health, Family, work and hobbies; I’m blessed to have all these near me.

After the hay bales are wrapped they have to be moved to a place they can be placed on a trailer and placed under a barn roof. This hay is for horses so it must be kept dry.

For some reason I am drawn to the engineering of making hay. There was a time when it would take 5-6 people to do this work and it would take 2-4 times to get the same amount of hay off the ground. Now 1-2 people can do it in a day.

Hopefully we’ll get 1-2 more cuttings this year. The air is cool and we are getting plenty of rain. The grasses love this grow environment. So if the trends of cooler summer and consistent rain continues the hay yield will be high this year.

Iceland Without Tourists

The last time we were in Iceland we took a tour that few people have done. We drove the “Ring Road” on our own in a camper staying in camp grounds each evening.

Even with other tourist in the county once you get past 1 hour outside of Reykjavík they would turn around and go back to Reykjavík at the end of the day. So just after Skogafoss waterfall we were mostly on our own. It was a fun and unique vacation we got to share together.

We wanted to get to the Western fjords but needed another full week to get through there. We decided to make a third trip and to do that by itself. We have yet to make it there a third time.

If you want to race to the end of the video to where they only talk about what it’s like to be in Iceland without tourists you can go here. I’ve been here and I can imagine exactly what it is like. It must be glorious.

If you want to see my notes on the last time we where there you can find them here. It’s hard to believe it was 2 years ago. It’s been a weird couple of years.

Iceland is a breathtaking place to be. If you can get there I highly recommend it.

The Burn Pile.

Are you a member of “the burn pile”?

Left discarded, burned, frozen, trampled, ignored, then snowed and rained on over multiple seasons you can still produce perfect fruit.

There is a lesson to learn from this pumpkin who despite all the odds decided life was worth continuing, set down roots, leafed out, flowered and successfully made another pumpkin. It didn’t have to.

That’s the story of being a member of “the burn pile”.

In our lives it’s not easy to do things well but it can be done in spite of the people, places and things that tried to keep us from doing it so well.

We did it well anyway.

Welcome aboard the burn pile.


I’m lucky to live so close to the Shenandoah Valley. From my house to the middle of Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park may be 45 minutes of driving.

Mostly I’m out there on the weekend when I have time to waste driving around Virginia without worrying about work. When I do get there the views and quiet of the mountain is quite therapeutic. Most everyone slows down and just enjoys being out there.

Looking north towards Front Royal, Virginia.

Every part of the day in every different season will produce a different feel of the mountain. Some days I get to go out during the week when there are very few people there. In the winter it can be lightly traveled where it feels like you are the only one there.

Low Gap

This old tree has been standing at Little Devils Stairs as long as I have lived in Virginia. This rest stop will be much different without the tree there once it finally gives in to gravity.

Little Devils Stairs

The sunsets can be quite a site to behold as well. Never disappointing even if it doesn’t show up from behind the clouds like you were expecting.

Looking west towards Luray, Virginia from Hogback overlook
Looking west towards Luray, Virginia from Hogback overlook on a previous trip

It turns out I’m never the only person there at a sunset like this. It’s a busy time on the mountain as people take selfies and then go about their way. If you can wait 10 minutes after sunset you will be left on the mountain alone again.

It’s these times I enjoy most alone in this sacred place.