Change is coming…

About two years ago, I decided to change my life: moving from London to Lisbon and focusing on more on creating a different life all together, from leaving the “rat race” behind to spending more time listening to my inner self. One of the things I kept constant though was the environment in which I live: a fairly big, capital city.

Since being a teenager, I had tacitly accepted the idea that, as a gay man, living your life freely was only possible in a big city. I’m not sure I ever gave this postulate much though, I just accepted it as truth and let it guide some crucial decisions I made: For example, when choosing a place at university, I decided against an offer I had from a really nice university in Wales, and instead opted to study in London. Not so much because I liked the university in London more, or was more into the subject, but simply because I assumed happiness and fulfillment as a gay man was definitely to be found somewhere where the lights of the city sparkled.

Of course, that was then and now is now. And over the last year or so, I have increasingly looked into setting up a place where LGBTQ+ folks can connect on many different levels. Of course, my first intuition was to look for a space somewhere in a big city. Again, the assumption being that, in a big city where queer folk are more numerous, there would be more space to build such a community.
Eventually, however, I looked beyond the gay community and found that alternative living and social communities are not confined to the big cities. Instead, many seem to thrive away from the city, in the very places I would have expected to “outcast them”. On the contrary, with only a few exceptions, many spaces that try and create community beyond commercial interests, seem to struggle in urban environments. Not because there is a scarcity of attempts to create them, but often simple economic realities, such as sky high property prices, make such attempts not viable.
On the other side, even with many places, apps, clubs and other offerings to connect, especially for gay guys, gay loneliness is a big part of reality.  Especially, among gay men living in urban environments. Discussing the many reasons for this phenomenon would probably fill more than a couple of books, but in short, it seems having 200 gay guys in a 500m radius around you looking at their smartphone, twenty gay bars to choose from or even the possibility to attend several “social” groups. Ironically, all this choice seems to make us lonelier.

This thinking let me to develop the idea of the Quinta Project (‘quinta’ is Portuguese for farm). In short, a sort of rural, residential “community centre”.  A place I envisage to be inclusive for all queer folk, where the focus is on creating real, social connections – away from the city. The Quinta Project website contains some more information about it, but I will also come back to some of the thinking behind the project in later posts here.

Of course, this means actually moving to a farm,  transforming the farm into a place where the project events can take place… but also, and importantly, running the farm around the project. In other words, my future plan doesn’t just involve me setting up and running the “community centre”, but also looking after over a thousand olive trees, reviving several currently unused fields, caring for a mature fruit orchard and creating a vegetable “garden” that can supply produce for the Quinta. In short, transiting from the “urban gay” man, with no idea of how to prune a fruit tree, to becoming a “gay farmer”.

How will it all work? Or indeed, will it work at all? I have no idea. At the moment I have more sleepless nights thinking about what it will be like. And other moments, where I just can’t wait to wake up every morning and hear bird, rather than buses. Will it be great? I don’t know. But I know it will definitely be an exciting journey! And I’m really glad that I can share this adventure with you!

 

Urban flight: Is the countryside the new cool?

From London to San Francisco, from Sydney to New York: living in big cities has become increasingly stressful and expensive. But is urban flight, especially beyond suburbia and into the deep countryside, a real alternative?

By chance I recently came across an interesting talk by German politician, self-declared nerd and big “urbanite” Simon Kowalewski. Hardly the sort of guy you’d imagine that starts advocating leaving the city. During his talk at re:publica, a leading tech and digital culture fair in Berlin, he offered some interesting insights into why he is thinking that the future could be in the countryside.

Unfortunately, the full talk is only available in German (YouTube). But here are a few points he covered, upsides first:

1) Prices. The obvious one, of course. In his talk he notes that  the price of buying a square metre in a rural part of Germany is less than renting one in Berlin for a month.

2) Environment. Another obvious one, maybe. The environmental impact of living in the countryside can be much lower than in the city. Why? Because it is much easier to install environmentally conscious solutions, such as solar panels.

3) Health, above all mental health.  According to his talk, all sorts of mental health problems are much more common in cities. (This is actually a well documented phenomenon, with a variety of reasons)

The downsides?

1) Transport, at least sustainable transport. Of course this is an enormous issue in the countryside, where buses and trains don’t run on two minute intervals. No easy solution here, unfortunately… at least not until electric cars get better!

2) Internet…actually, not so much according to him. Although I guess German connectivity might be particularly good in the countryside/bad in urban areas. While there are certainly solutions, connectivity can be a problem in Portugal (and other countries).

3) Health… or maybe not. Another one where the apparent downside might be more of a myth than a reality. Busy inner city hospitals and doctors with lists covering many thousands of patients are indeed something more common in urban areas.

4) Politics… or rather the legend of the “backward countryside folk”.  Here, he makes an interesting point during his talk: he notes that at least as far as serious and organised right wing politics is more common in urban areas. On the contrary, in rural areas, while people may feel “left out”, they are less likely to be hard core xenophobes.

So, does rural living really present an alternative for him? Well it certainly seems so. As at least in his conclusion the positives outweigh the negatives, and many of the negatives are more myth than reality.

What do you think? Would you consider living in the countryside?

2017 resolutions

What a year of change 2016 has been for me! With just a few quiet moments in between moving, learning (or attempting to!) a new language and getting everything sorted – standing still was hardly an option.
After lots of changes it is now great to be settled, at least mostly, in my new “home”, enjoying the amazing life in Lisbon – and being more able to focus on how things should develop from here on. I’m slowly starting to grapple blogging as a main communication tool and with that in mind… here are a few of the “good resolutions” I have set myself for the coming year:

1)    more consistent blog posting
I know things haven’t been always consistent… both content and timing has been a little erratic sometimes. So, in 2017, I’ll devote more time and thought into making this blog more relevant, on-topic and much more interesting and consistent to follow.

2)    easier topic-identification
I know that I have two “broad” topic areas – and both are not necessarily interesting for everyone together. One is about getting more out of “gay life”: from fitness to sex to happiness. The other is about (not just gay) life in Portugal.
To make it easier I have divided the blog into the two sections, which now show up separately, making it easier for you to find relevant content. Early next year, I’ll divide the newsletter up so that you can subscribe to one, the other – or both. Stay tuned!

3)    more helpful stuff
So far many blog posts have been focused on what I have been doing or how I feel about things. It’s been great to hear back from you with questions – and I’m always excited when someone writes me or asks about something on this blog. Based on the feedback, in the new year I’m planning on more ‘interactive’ posts which should be really useful to you to help have more fun, join others getting fit – or when visiting #GayPortugal (and there are a few brilliant reasons here!). Of course… please keep the feedback and questions coming!

4)    more social interaction
I’m always super excited when someone gets in touch on social media: from retweets or interactions on Instagram. Let’s do more of it… let me know what you think, what you like, what you’d like to read more about… or just say hi. Find me on Twitter as @urbangay, Instagram @urbangayblog and PlanetRomeo @urbangay – and if you are feeling energetic: Runkeeper…(for the 2017 Fitness Challenge) looking forward to chatting with you!

Last, but not least… above all: Thank you to everyone who made 2016 such a memorable year. My old friends, my new friends …. And you! So… thank you for reading, commenting, reposting, liking, suggesting, saying hi or asking questions.

 

 

Things I’ve learned from staying in an AirBnB

Since I moved to Lisbon a few weeks ago I lived in an AirBnb/shared apartment. Basically, it is a large apartment which is subdivided into three bedrooms and my two rooms (one bed room and a “writing room”). The owner lets out the three bedrooms via AirBnB, pretty much exclusively to short term visitors – so mostly they stay two days or so in Lisbon to explore the city. That makes it a really interesting place to “people watch”… So here are a few of the things I encountered or learned….

  1. Some people are there – but never to be seen
    This probably falls into the “strange guest” category…  one girl rented one of the rooms for almost a week. During the entire time you could hear her in the room… but she was never to be seen, nor seemed to venture out much (if at all). I only ran into her when she left the place, with her bags packed… I asked her a little cynically if she enjoyed Lisbon, and she said “yes, very much”. I’m still puzzled what she was doing here, and I really wonder how her stay in Lisbon has been…
  2. Some people bring food from home…
    OK, there are things I totally understand one can’t live without (yes, I sort of like Vegemite if you want an example). That said, I’ve been quite frequently confused by the food some people seemingly bring with them when traveling: In just a bit over a month I have encountered sugar from Brazil, Dutch cheese bought in Germany … and something that looked like bacon from I think Poland (which ironically made it’s appearance in the fridge in a sealed packet – and then also disappeared without being cooked as far as I can tell).
  3. Some people love to party… some people stay in
    … but it’s not whom I thought it would be. I’m not really able to generalise here, but for a three days there was this a young couple living next to me (my guess would be very early 20s). Every day, they would go out at 8 or so in the morning, and return together around 5. No, they weren’t working, they told me every day what they had seen. Then, at 6:30 they cooked dinner, ate – and spend the rest of the evening in their room.  Similarly, two guys stayed here… I don’t think they were gay (though my gaydar is fabulously crap) – and they did the same. Just that they cut down the time spending visiting Lisbon, and spend more time watching movies in the evening (quite loudly), drinking beer and eating pizza. If they would have appeared to be romantically involved, fair enough… but I really don’t think so (or maybe that was why the movies were so loud?)….
    On the other hand … One couple seemed to have a fantastic time: My room is next to the main door, and I heard them coming in nearly every morning while I was in bed debating with myself if it was a good idea to get up …  they would then seemingly go to bed, though not before engaging in some fairly active pre-sleep exercises, then sleep and next day repeat what they did. On the third day I eventually bumped into them: let’s just say they were at least 20 years older than me. Just goes to show… you can have a party at any age! (#lifegoals!)
  4. Some people adore talking, asking and interacting…
    Talking about wide variety of people: One girl seemed to assume that, presumably because I has just moved here, I was the fountain of all knowledge… I have no evidence she was actually listening at the door of her room for when I’d pass, but a few times, she just opened the door at exactly that moment when I was passing to go to kitchen or bath,…and immediately asked if I knew a local bakery, a restaurant for tonight, the time table of the streetcar, how to get to Estoril… Good news, I knew most of it. But I got a little weary of passing the door (as discussing ways to go to Estoril with just a towel on isn’t my idea of morning fun…)
  5. and some just say a single word…
    An other day, I came into the kitchen and there was a guy there whom I assume must have just moved in. So I said: “Hi! I’m Stephan”. His response was: “ah” – and he left the kitchen. I saw him once or twice after, and he never greeted back…

Well,… so far this has really been quite entertaining to live with so many people coming and going around me. I’m planning on staying a little longer depending on when I have found a good place for me… so let’s see what other curiosities may come up. So far, I have to say, it almost beats sitting in a café and watching the world go by – especially as, as a fellow resident, it is quite easy to talk to the people (well, to some anyway) . It’s almost a shame I haven’t got a fiction book contract lined up..

First Week in Lisbon

Yes… Today marks exactly one week since I arrived in Lisbon. The first week went seriously fast… I imagined it to be quite slow, and I would have lots of time to do things … but things didn’t work out quite that way.

I spent the first week volunteering at a film festival, which was exciting in some ways and interesting in others. It was fun to meet different people, including some who moved here from abroad and made Lisbon their home – and to hear what tips they had for settling in and their impressions. What struck me was that all of them appeared very positive about living here, and all were glad they made the move – even if it mean much lower wages than in Northern Europe. But everyone commented on the much better quality of live, the vibrant cultural scene and generally amazingly friendly reception they received. The only “downside” was the complexity of Portuguese… nothing surprising there (it really is a complicated language to learn!).

I’m currently living in São Bento – close to the Parliament building, and next to Bairro Alto, Chiado and Principe Real. This is very much central in Lisbon – and close to almost everywhere. The film festival is in Avenidas, the main Avenue on the other side of these three areas. I decided to walk a different way to “work” every day, walking though various backstreets of Principe Real or Bairro Alto: Of course, while Lisbon isn’t a large city (or at least nowhere as big as say London) I still haven’t managed to see many parts… but at least this gave me chance to explore the neighbourhood and surrounding areas I’m in in more detail.

I also had three friends visiting briefly from London, so there were a few opportunities to catch up – and it was great to see them. The common thing everyone remarked was how (positively) surprised they were about Portugal – and how Portugal is really underselling itself abroad. It was quite interesting that all of them talked about this as a major point… and all of them have sworn to come back and explore more. So there is definitely something there.

The festival is still on until Saturday – so I’ll still be working a bit for the rest of the week. I’m looking forward to watching a few movies and working – and then hopefully I’ll be a bit more settled next week to write again more regularly and work more on the projects I have lined up.

2 weeks to go…

The last two weeks before moving to Lisbon now have officially begun… I’m so excited! As a really great friend of mine is getting married (hey! All the best to you!!) in Germany, I managed to sneak in two weeks of almost rest and relaxation in my home town. Actually, this is a brilliant little break: It allows me to have the space to focus on what I’ll do in Portugal, develop some very exciting projects that I have lined up – and also to reflect back on how I used the [more or less] last twelve months to dramatically shift my life and develop it in the direction I want to grow in. I’m really grateful for this, and, if I think back, it is amazing how things have moved on.

Of course, around this time last year, I started my own “happiness” project  (loosely based on Gretchen Rubin’s happiness project ideas). This certainly helped me focus a lot, and turn things around. I still think it is a great book – and one that can help a lot of people turn their life around by focusing on one aspect at a time. Of course, the key is to develop the areas which need development – and then focus one month on developing each area and develop new habits. If you haven’t read her work, please do. You don’t need to be depressed or even sad to use her ideas – even if you are quite content at the moment, using her techniques is bound to bring more happiness into your life.

I know I haven’t been my most productive last year…, publishing only a few articles. But things are also picking up there – and I’m really looking forward to my new environment and freedom to fully focus on the projects I really want to focus on. I’m just starting to work on my 8th book, a new edition of another book needs to be delivered to the publishers early next year – and I still have a lot of articles in the pipeline somewhere. So I’m really excited about finding the space and freedom to focus on these soon.

Alongside the books, I’m also focusing on developing a training and personal development/coaching business (more about that in future posts!). The last few months I have been starting to work on the concepts and ideas that will guide the development – and importantly, help people achieve more of what they want. When I worked as an academic, I ran quite number of executive classes – and I really enjoyed them immensely: Not least, because they were both massively challenging and tremendously rewarding at the same time. After a weekend of working with high powered executives, I always left the class room totally exhausted, but also intensely satisfied. So picking up from there and developing more in that area seems … well. I guess both positively challenging as well as potentially hugely rewarding.

So… there we go… With just two weeks to go, I can’t say how amazingly grateful and happy I’m to be in this space at this moment. And helped by a lot of amazing friends and colleagues who made this all possible over the last year or so. Thank you to all of you – and hopefully see you in Lisbon very soon!

[Picture: My temporary “office” at my parent’s home in Germany. I love the view over the garden – and the sunshine we are having in Germany at the moment. Almost feels like southern Europe!]

1 Month to go…

Finally.. the count down is now on in earnest… after 5 weeks in June/July, I returned to the UK to sort everything out and … get ready to move. With the date now set, and a one way ticket booked… the last month has now officially begun. This means, of course, many See you soon” dinners with friends still here in Britain, and two weeks in Germany as friends of mine are getting married and visiting my mother. At least Continue reading “1 Month to go…”

The first 48 hours of Lisbon: Arraial Pride

IMG_7692Friday was finally the day, and it was “bye bye” to Brexit-land – and hello to Lisbon.  Of course, I didn’t expect my leaving day to be quite such a dramatic day in the British and European landscape… However,  Brexit certainly had quite an effect on what I planned as a quiet traveling day, and just before hitting the second of the Lisbon Pride celebrations, Arraial Pride, the day after arriving. Continue reading “The first 48 hours of Lisbon: Arraial Pride”

Summer Plans

Have you noticed? It is almost summer! Time to make some summer plans… FullSizeRender

Luckily (I guess) I still have heaps of vacation time left before leaving my job. So I’m now making plans what I’ll do this summer… after all, what is a single gay boy (ok, the boy bit is maybe a bit stupid)… so what is a relatively newly single gay guy to do?

Lisbon is obviously high on the agenda. Not least because I have started to learn Portuguese … so it is time to practice those skills. And learn a bit more… more about that in the next post about learning Portuguese! Continue reading “Summer Plans”

Eurovision Song Contest – Stockholm

What’s probably more gay then a pride festival? The European Song Contest [ESC]…cult in Europe and beyond (and if you are not from Europe, or are starting to get confused now…  here is a nice introduction).  This year was Sweden’s turn to host the contest… and although I didn’t manage to get tickets to the main, main event, I decided to have a go and try “Eurovision Song Contest – The Party”.

#esc2016

A photo posted by Urbangay (@urbangayblog) on

On Friday I was therefore seated comfortably in a plane bound for Stockholm… and yes, Continue reading “Eurovision Song Contest – Stockholm”