Aging and the Brain…

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This post is a little different than those previously posted, but it’s relevant for all of us, no matter what age you may be at.

A couple years ago a friend recommended a book called “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Dr. Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and researcher at the faculty of Columbia University. Dru had stumbled upon the book when investigating how one could recuperate from brain damage caused by a stroke, as her father had recently suffered one. Although that was her principle area of interest, she found the book to contain much more. In fact, each chapter is a journey undertaken by Doidge who travels to discuss with medical experts and neuroscientists what they have learned about the brain’s ability to change itself.

The outcome, in short, is that the brain is not fixed, nor compartmentalized as previously thought where specific actions of the mind and body are allocated to specific areas of the brain. That, in fact, the brain evokes elements of plasticity – it is flexible and non-compartmentalized – if one part of the brain is damaged another area can take up the slack for what the initial part was responsible for. Doidge also found that the brain is competitive, that aspects of the brain actually compete with one another to take over areas of the brain that are no longer being utilized (ex: losing one’s sight – the area of the brain that handled this function could now be used for other cognitive activities).

What I found most interesting concerns aging – how it affects the brain and what we can do as we age to keep it healthy and active – to improve cognition, awareness, memory and concentration. After finishing the book I gathered all the text blocks I’d underlined so that in the future, rather than rereading the book I could just read my notes as I worked on my personal plan to keep my brain functioning the best that it can (especially after all I’ve put it through!).

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Bike Ride to Mt. Chauve

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View from the village park at Falicon

Spring has definitely arrived in the Cote d’Azur and I’m making the most of it by getting out and biking before the weather gets too hot. I’ve been revisiting my favorite rides and discovering some new ones. This past week I made my way to Mont Chauve, a mountaintop behind Nice and near the small hilltop village of Falicon.

Getting there means heading north straight up from Nice, through the upscale neighborhood of Cimiez, (which is the hill right behind downtown Nice), then passing through the even-a-little-more upscale Rimiez, and eventually to Falicon. Easiest route is to take Blvd. de Cimiez and then Ave. de Rimiez, which takes you to the top of Rimiez and eventually to the right-side turn-off to Falicon, on the Route de l’Aire Saint Michel (the hotel Auberge de St. Michel is situated on the corner).

Route de l’Aire Saint Michel winds its way to Falicon, perched on a small hill that looks out towards Nice and the backside of Rimiez. There’s a viewpoint on the top with a bench that circles a tree and offers plenty of shade – a great place for lunch if you’ve brought one. The views look back to Mont Boron, the port, and old town Nice.

To get to Mont Chauve you have to return back along Route de l’Aire Saint Michel for a bit, and then take a left turn on Route de Mont Chauve.

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It’s a climb. There are 13 switch backs as the road narrows to a single lane and makes it way up the mountain. At every turn there’s a viewpoint, which continue to get better the higher you climb. You’ll have to pass by a closed gate to get all the way to the top, as it is closed to cars – just hikers and bikers. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best day as it was partially overcast, but that kept the weather cool.

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View from the top of Mont Chauve

From the top you can see nearly all of Nice, westward to Antibes and the Esterel mountain range south of Cannes.

Dealing with Portuguese Bureaucracy…

Well, I’m not out of the water yet. (continued from here).

 I had thought once I’d gathered all the necessary paperwork and submitted them, that I would then be shortly be receiving my Portuguese driver’s license. That was back at the beginning of December of last year (2017). It is now nearing mid’ April and I have still not received the license. So upon returning to Lisbon I went and and checked in with the DMV (IMI in Portugal) to discover what may be holding it up. In my broken and very limited Portuguese, and after a few unsuccessful attempts at trying to find the right line I needed to be in, I finally found someone who told me that my original receipt letter that I received was my provisional license. I had a copy of it but she informed me that wasn’t good enough, I needed the original. For 30 euros I could get a new one. So I began to get my wallet out when she informed me that I’d need to go to another line to pay and get the letter.

Each time you get in a line-up, you begin by getting a ticket that is only available downstairs at the entrance. So I went back down, obtained another ticket (now for line “A”), and waited for my turn in the waiting room. Finally my number was called and ended up right beside the woman I had previously dealt with, and fortunately, knowing my situation, she explained it to the gentleman. He then took my money and printed out a new provisional license and then explained to me in good English that it was good for four months. I asked what was taking so long to get the real license. He said they have to check back with the country of origin in order to do the exchange (in this case, Canada), and that can take some time. Plus, he said, there’s so many ex-pat Portuguese who’ve been living in Brazil and who are moving back, that it has caused a 6-8 month backlog. Well, at least I had my provisional – although it was just for four months. Hopefully my original would arrive by then, or back to IMI and out another 30 euros.

We are finding that this is how the bureaucracy is in Portugal – slow. It is also difficult to get clear answers as to how things should be done correctly and in what order. We’ve spent a lot of time in government offices, only to find out that a new form is needed, or we needed something from another office before they could proceed in the one we were currently at.

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Club Naval near (sort of) Ericeira, Portugal

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Portugal’s Atlantic coastal highways are lined with numerous restaurants that specialize in serving fresh seafood. And they are very popular. Like all restaurants, there are good ones and not so good ones. Inexpensive and over the top. There’s so many that it’s hard to find the good ones from the bad.

IMG_3112On a recommendation we discovered a place that is both reasonably priced and exceptionally good. It is called Club Naval and it is situated at the bottom of a steep cliff just outside the small town of Assenta, about 20 minutes north of Ericeira taking highway #247. When you arrive at Assenta, turn right and drive right through it to towards the coast. At the coast you’ll come to a fork in the road, one to a lighthouse (left) and a sign for Club Naval directing you to the right. You’ll have to drive down the cliff on a very narrow road that zigzags back and forth until you reach the restaurant.

There’s nothing much there, other than a small port for local fishing boats, a few fish shacks built into the hillside (with some looking like they are about to slide into the sea), and of course, Club Naval. The restaurant is quite unassuming, with a small entrance with a few tables, but then two adjoining rooms filled with long tables.

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The fish caught by the fisherman of this small port is what Club Naval serves each day. Matter of fact that’s all they serve. The menu lists all types of fish, but only that caught fresh will actually be available, sold by the kilo. Upon entering you find out what is fresh and then select what it is you’d like, and how much of it, from the display case.

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The fish is exceptional, cooked perfectly every time we’ve been there, in garlic and olive oil, served with potatoes and salad if you so choose. There’s also shrimp and prawns when available, (and they usually are), and a decent wine list – in quality and price.

So if you happen to be exploring around Ericeira, be sure to save this as a place to stop for lunch. And if it happens to be a Sunday, get there early as it fills up fast.

Ericeira, Portugal

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IMG_3487We are back in Europe and recently made a visit to Portugal, a place we keep coming back to and hope to move to in a few months on a more permanent level. We start in Lisbon, but enjoying exploring the areas around the capital.

Less than an hour north and west of Lisbon, along the Atlantic coastline, is the small seaside town of Ericeira. It is extremely popular for surfers with at least seven breaks within the town itself and even more up and down the coast. Steep cliffs meet the ocean, creating ideal viewpoints for watching the surfers below, interspersed with small coves with lovely sand beaches and small seaside restaurants. The surf is great, and so is the fish cuisine, fresh from the sea.

 

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Sheltered fishing port and town beach of Ericeira

IMG_3472Ericeira reminds me of another town; Sayulita back in Mexico, less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. They both are full of surfers, attract similar visitors, and are rich with great restaurants, bars and nightlife. Both have so far managed to avoid large hotels and and high-rises from being built in the town area, although that may be changing. As it is now, available accommodation is mostly small apartments, hostels and boutique hotels. But, where Sayulita’s streets are mostly dirt, unpaved, and the architecture is rather eclectic, in Ericeira all the streets are paved with white and black stones that can be frequently found throughout Portugal, with inlaid designs. It makes for a very clean town, and most of the buildings are similar in style, with white with blue (usually) trim. And there’s only a few buildings with more than two stories.

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The typical buildings and streets of Ericeira

We’ve been to Ericeira a few times now and our favorite restaurant has become Tik-Tak – great food and people. Shrimp and prawns are very popular on the menu and the grilled giant prawns are our favorite.

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Drone Photography of Puerto Vallarta

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In years past I would hire an airplane so I could take aerial images of the Puerto Vallarta region for our print and online publications. When the market was hot I’d have to go up each year as so much would’ve changed because of real estate development. That said, I hadn’t been up since 2010 as the market in Vallarta really leveled off. But it is in full swing again, so it was time to update our aerial image bank. Even though I no longer have the print business, we did keep our MLS service and we make good use of the aerial images there.

In the past I’d usually go up in a small Cessna where the door had been taken off in order to get better quality images. I’d strap myself in well and then hang out, in order not to get the wing in the images. The pilots I flew with got good at helping me out by flying sideways and lifting the wing, giving me a better angle.

But this year I decided to invest the money I’d spend on plane time into a drone instead, and keep myself safe on the ground. It has given me a lot more flexibility to the type of images I can take, and when I can take them. And it is a lot less expensive.

I prefer panoramic images as they look great on full screen websites, and better reflect what a region looks like. To get these images there is a built-in Pano builder that comes with the software of the Mavic Pro, but I’m not happy with the quality it provides for the finished end product. So I build my own by taking 4-8 vertical images that I overlap by about 25%, and then stitch together using Adobe Photoshop Elements. I’ve tried a few programs that stitch images together but found that Elements definitely does the best job. And the price is right at just $75.00. It is easy to use and rarely do I have to make any further adjustments, except to the lighting, contrast, sharpening and color.

Unfortunately the format I use for this blog doesn’t do these images justice. If you want to see them in a larger format, with information about each development, visit mlsvallarta.com.

Downtown Puerto Vallarta

With the “Malecon” promenade in the foreground and the church and plaza behind.

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Southside Vallarta

With the new pier and the popular Los Muertos beach in the foreground, and the hillsides of Amapas behind.

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Conchas Chinas

This coastline reminds me of the Cote d’Azur, although with a few more high-rises…

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Hotel Zone

A little to the northwest of Vallarta, and before the airport, is the Hotel Zone, which saw a number of residential high-rises go up between 2003-2010.

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Marina Vallarta

One of Mexico’s first mega-developments with a golf course, marina and plenty of real estate and stay options.

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Nuevo Vallarta

Vallarta’s second mega development with four golf courses, two marinas, and lots of real estate options available.

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Punta Mita

A very high-end real estate development on the most northerly point of Banderas Bay.

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Sayulita

A very popular and funky surf town to the north of Vallarta.

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Quimixto

A favorite getaway of ours, with a nice left-break surf spot, situated on the south shore of Banderas Bay.

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Obtaining a Driver’s License in Portugal

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(If you’ve ever had to deal with bureaucratic red tape, you’ll love the short clip above)

We became residents of Portugal in 2017. Initially we purchased a small apartment in the Alfama area, the old town district of Lisbon, and then began the process of establishing everything else that comes with residency – bank accounts, home services, tax accountants, and deciding whether to buy a car/motorcycle or not, or both. We decided on both. And that’s where the fun began.

Having lived in Mexico for the past 30 years, my driver’s license was obviously Mexican, allowing me to drive both a car and a motorcycle (I drove both in Mexico). I had held onto and kept my Canadian one up-to-date, but it only had me down for driving cars.

In early 2016 I had begun to look into what it took to obtain a Portuguese license as a new resident, and I discovered that for EU residents they can use the license of their original country, they just have to register themselves with IMTT (Institution that issues drivers licenses). I also discovered that Portugal has a reciprocal exchange program with some countries, (such as the USA, Australia, and in my case, Canada), but not with Mexico. Meaning if I wanted a Portuguese license and I was showing them my Mexican one I’d have to take the Portuguese driving course and test, as if I were a new driver.

My first initial problem was that my Canadian license isn’t for motorcycles and I needed that. So rather than taking the course in Portugal (and in Portuguese), I decided I’d just go back to Canada and do the motorcycle test there, hoping I could fast track it.

So began the process… Continue reading

Exploring the caves of the Algarve Cliffs

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Praia Benagil

I’ve posted what the views are like when walking the cliffs of the Carvoeiro coastline a few times, but after dealing with a paddle board that badly needed patching, winds and strong swells, I finally got the opportunity to explore the coast by water.

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P1000123One of the most impressive places to launch from is at Benagil where there’s plenty of parking close by and easy access to the beach. But most importantly, because this is where the largest and most impressive cave on the coast can be found close by. It’s impressive not just because of its size (you could hold great concerts here), but also because of how it is lit up, with a small opening in the roof, as well as two arches from outside, that provide a wide range of colors as light reflects off the yellow-toned walls and turquoise waters, different depending on the time of day of your visit.

Further on (going eastward), there are smaller and deeper caves that are accessible by board and fun to explore. But you certainly wouldn’t want to be doing this on a windy day, or especially when swells are happening – you could wreck your board and possibly yourself. Continue reading

Exploring Lake Como & Portofino

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Every now and then we like to do a trip on the spur of the moment, especially in the fall when the weather can be iffy. We choose a few places in different parts of Europe, and then as we get close to the time to leave, we go with the one where the weather looks best. This year the Lakes District of Northern Italy won out. So we loaded up the car with paddle boards and put our bikes on the bike rack, and hit the road.

Lakes District

The Italian Lakes District is comprised of five major lakes and a series of smaller ones, situated in the northern part of Italy, near the Swiss border and just above Milan. Of the five primary lakes, Lake Como is the most famous. And if you just have time to visit one, this is the one. The lake is shaped like an upside-down “Y”, with the towns of Como and Lecco at the bottom, and the famous towns of Bellagio, Varenna, Tremezina and Menaggio congregated where the three arms of the lake meet. A number of ferries joins these towns and shorelines together, as driving to them would adds hours to travel time. If you are to visit anywhere on Lake Como, it is in the central area where you can quickly visit four of the regions most popular and most beautiful towns.

Lake Como

We left from Nice, entered Italy, taking the coastal freeway through Savona, then up to Mondavi, and then took the SP12 (a favorite highway) to Albi. The color of the leaves were turning and the day was just beautiful with clear blue skies. We took our time, enjoying the scenery of rolling hills of yellow, orange and red, as the vineyard leaves to turn to vibrant colors.

In years past when we’ve gone to Northern Italy in the autumn, it is usually to take in the Truffle Festival in Albi. But, as we got out of Nice late, we just drove through Piemonte, enjoying the colors and pastoral landscape along the way.

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