Lisboa – what a beautiful city!

“Lisbon is often likened in guide-books to San Francisco, because of its streets that rise so dramatically from the waterfront, and Rome, because it is built on seven hills. In truth, there is, and surely never will be, any mistaking the Portuguese capital for anywhere else. So far from surrending its compelling character to the twenty-first century’s forces of homogeneity, the new prosperity has instead revived Lisbon’s justifiable pride in its distinctiveness.”

Martin Page, in The First Global Village: How Portugal Changed the World, p. 29

Day two in Lisbon was spent with a visit to the Mercado da Ribeira, near the port, and the Feira da Ladra, Lisbon’s main flea market, before heading out and exploring the neighbourhood around the Castle de São Jorge. After finding the restaurants that had been recommended to me closed again (I finally gave up looking for particular restaurants and just went for whatever looked ok), we took a tram to Chiado where we had lunch at Cervejaria Trindade, one of the oldest beer halls in Lisbon. At night we went for a nice Portuguese meal at Bairro Alto and walked around a bit to check the Christmas lights, which were really impressive.

Mercado da RibeiraEntrance to Feira da LadraView from the castleIgreja do CarmoCastelo

Christmas lightsLightslights

chestnut vendors

Sunday was mostly spent in Belem, where we visited the Torre de Belem and the Mosteiro dos Jerônimos. All the attractions were free that day, as it is most sundays between 10 am and 2 pm. It was cold but we had beautiful blue sky, as you can see in some of the pictures:

Torre de BelemTorre de BemePeople enjoying the nice dayFountain in front of monasteryInside monastery

MonasteryPillars at monastery

We had planned to go to Sintra in our last day, monday, but we felt that we hadn’t seen enough of Lisbon. So we went back to some of the places we had passed by quickly (like Alfama, Graça and the northern part of Bairro Alto) and explored them more fully. Another nice sunny day!

School trip near castleStairs and more stairsLisbon doorsArchwayTram 28

View of the alfamaLisbon house

To cap it off, we had our last meal in Lisbon at an Indian restaurant recommended by our friend Detlef, a Lisbon resident. It’s one of those places you would never think of going in but that has become quite an institution among those “in the know”. The restaurant is located on the first floor of a residential building just off Plaça da Figueira and it looks very simple and low-key but the food was amazing! Fitting end for the trip…

Dodgy entrance to restaurantMain door


For a slideshow of these pictures and more click here; for a static selection go here.

And here’s for my top five list about Lisbon:

  1. Pastéis de Belém at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém
  2. The uncanny light that baskes the city
  3. Drinking Ginginha at a Ginginha bar at the end of a cold day
  4. The incredible friendliness of Lisboeta, who haven’t been jaded by seeing their city overan by tourists in recent years and still go out of their way to point us in the right direction. An older man actually stopped us on the street to make sure we hadn’t miss ed the lookout at the end of the street.
  5. How much it taught me about my own roots

More on Lisbon and Portugal

Perhaps no European country went through such radical change so fast.  From 1933 to 1974 Portugal was under a right-wing dictatorship that kept it isolated from the rest of the world and stunted much of its growth.  By 1960 77% of its population still lived in the countryside under a rigid social hierarchy in which the illiterate peasants obeyed wealthy landowners and women were encouraged to stay at home by the traditionalist regime. During the 1960s-1970s, the dictator Salazar got the country embroiled in a bloody war in its colonies in Africa (mainly Angola) and over a million young Portuguese emigrated to avoid the draft. As the Portuguese writer Maria Filomena Mónica puts it, it was better to be a construction worker in Paris than to die in the swamps of the Guiné in Africa.

In 1974 a coup ended the dictatorship. In the early 1980s, as Alison Roberts describes it, Portugal’s image was still one of “genteel decay”. Money was scarce and emigration to northern Europe or America continued. But democracy, the end of the wars in Africa, and Portugal’s arrival into the European Union in 1986 helped revolutionize the country.  EU money poured into infrastructure – the signs are still obvious today in the network of brand new highways that crisscross the country as well as in the modern public transit system.  The newly elected social democratic government led by Aníbal Cavaco Silva had more doctorates among them than the British cabinet had bachelor’s degrees. Portugal had the lowest literacy and numeracy rates among adult population in western Europe. Within 5 years, however,  literacy and numeracy rates among 18 year-olds had surpassed that of England.

The speed with which Portugal emerged from a “third-world” status was startling. Families can now afford to heat their homes in the winter, sewage systems have been installed, tuberculosis and other diseases linked to poverty have declined markedly, gap between the rich and the poor have narrowed, and inflation is among the lowest in western Europe.

The arrival of the eastern European countries into the EU has been a challenge to Portugal, as it lost much foreign investment to those countries. Unemployment has began to rise. But I believe that Portuguese industriousness and adaptability will win and they will be able mount this challenge to their economy.

Lisbon – Day 1

Alan and I arrived in Lisbon on Friday afternoon (8/12). The whole of Portugal had had horrible cold, wet weather for weeks prior to our arrival but we lucked out. There were a few drops on Friday but otherwise it was beautiful blue sky the whole time we were there. It was very cold (around 10-12 C for most of the day) but very nice… Perfect weather for photography!

Like Rome, Lisbon stretches over seven hills. The core of the city spreads over two hills and the valley in between. On one hill is Chiado and Bairro Alto, known for its bohemian nature, while the other hails the Alfama and the nighbourhood of Graça, the only part of the city that survived the earthquake in 1755. The business district is in the valley in between, the Baixa.

We checked in at our hotel and were ready to hit the streets by 1:30 pm. We walked from our hotel (Residencial Florescente) to the Santa Justa elevator but since the line was too long we decided to walk up to Chiado/Bairro Alto in search of a place for lunch. Being a holiday, most of the more traditional restaurants were closed but after a bit of wandering around, we finally came upon a nice place with a menu do dia for 7,50 euros (starter, main course & drink). I A Brasileirahad Bacalhau com nata (Salted cod in cream sauce) and Alan had beef stroganoff. Not bad.

We then walked over to A Brasileira for some coffee and dessert – nice Portuguese custard tarts. The place is supposed to be more expensive than average. Two coffees with milk (garotos) and two custard pies came to a walloping 4.50 euros.

After lunch, we took the tram 28 to its final stop. We waited around a bit, took some pictures of the lovely square at the end, before taking it back to Calçada do Combo, in Bairro Alto.

Bica funicular fountain Bench Street another street

The view from Rua Sta Catarina of the Tejo river and the statue of Cristo Rei across the bay was beautiful. There’s a nice outdoor cafe up there (from where I took the picture below) that looks a perfect place to be in the summer.

View of the bridge

We then walked across the hill to the Mirador da Gloria for a view of the Baixa and the castle. The light was beautiful!!

View of the castle

We walked down the path of the funicular to the hotel, stopping for a Ginginha (cherry licquer).

Ginginha bar

Lisbon trip part I

Travelling low cost

This is the first time we’ve travelled on a low-cost carrier. Things looked promising: booking on the internet was easy, our check-in counter was a lot less crowded than Iberia’s counter. “Wow, this is not bad at all. I wonder why people would pay full fares.” That optimism lasted until Alan checked his boarding pass a bit more closely. “What?? We don’t get a seat number??” he yelled as flashbacks of bad experiences travelling standby as an airline employee flashed through his mind. Apparently not.

I tried to appease him saying it didn’t really matter, all the seats were the same anyways. Having said that, I hastened to add “but make sure you grab the seats by the emergency exit”. To which Alan replied: “I thought you said all the seats were the same…” Well, I have long legs.

He had sort of calmed down and resigned to the fact that we may have to fight for seats when a new surprise appeared. We had passed through security and started looking for gate 27. We follow the signs, get to the room where gate 27 was supposed to be but fail to find it. We then see a set of stairs leading to the room below, at street level. The sign was clear – “Gates 27 & 28”. “What?? We don’t even get a gate???” Not really. We had to catch a bus to the airplane. Having lived through the golden years of international aviation, the whole experience was a bit of a cultural shock for my poor hubby. Some of the pearls I had to listen:

“I wonder if we get flight attendants.”

“Next thing we know, we’ll have to pay for the bus ride to the airplane.”


The whole experience was ok, though. The employees were very professional and curteous, the flights left on time and arrived a few minutes early, and both planes were half empty (or half full, depending on how you see things), meaning we didn’t have to fight for seats. But I sure wish someone would explain to me how these carriers can survive when they charge so little for their tickets… I was pricing a trip from Barcelona to Granada in February and it would have cost 40 euros, all inclusive (taxes, etc), for Alan and I. That is: 20 euros each. Return.


More trip reports will come on Friday, when I finally get my pictures back from the photo lab (sigh! I wish I had a digital SLR…)

Just back from Lisbon

Tram 28

What a city. Alan and I got back this afternoon from Lisbon and we were both enchanted and to a certain degree mystified by that lovely city. I’ll be posting a trip report during the next few days, but for now I’ll leave you with what Lisbon meant for us during the past four days:

  • the sticky floor of a Ginginha bar
  • the warm light basking the castle in the late afternoon
  • the rickety ride on the tram 28
  • the warmth and helpfulness of Lisboetas
  • the unforgetful pastéis de Belém, wonderful warm custard pies sold near the Mosteiros de Jerônimos
  • coffee & pastry at the Café A Brasileira
  • frail old ladies carrying groceries up unimaginable hills
  • round breakfast buns
  • the smoke and smell, resembling that of firecrackers, emanating from the roasted chestnut stalls all over the city
  • tai chi and lazy afternoon at the park near the Torre de Belém
  • the apologetic behaviour of the airport security guy who had to confiscate Alan’s shaving cream and my hair mousse because they were above the prescribed limit (which we knew of course, but tried to see if we could get away with it)

The list could go on and on…

A Casa Portuguesa: Is the luso-hispanic divide breaking down?

Despite sharing a border and being ruled once by the same king for nearly a hundred years, Portugal and Spain have always kept each other at arms’ length. The two countries have much in common but numerous wars over the centuries led to a relationship that at times have been marked by open mistrust and antagonism. For long they simply ignored the other’s existence; Portugal turned towards alliances with England while Spain looked up at France. The opening of a little Portuguese haven in Gracia shows that this distance is beginning to shorten.

One of the great advantages of the development of our global village, the advent of mass tourism, the Internet, and the breaking of barriers brought forth by the EU is that old rivalries slowly fade as people discover that the country next door is actually a nice place to visit. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’ve met a lot of people here who has lived in Lisbon or other parts of Portugal. They have encouraged Alan and I to visit and in a few weeks we’ll be setting out to Lisbon.

Last night we discovered a wine bar/delicatessen/bakery specialized in Portuguese products. It’s up in Gracia, on calle Verdi, past the cinema. Called A Casa Portuguesa, they have wonderful pastéis de nata and while having one with a nice cortado I struk conversation with the outgoing girl behind the bar. She thought I was German at first but that’s another story. Anyways, they have been open only two months and are doing well. The owners are Portuguese and soon realized there were no Portuguese shops in Barcelona (!). They decided not only to fill that void and provide the Portuguese community with a shopping spot but also to educate the locals on things Portuguese. As soon as we mentioned we would be visiting Lisbon in a few weeks, the Portuguese girl behind the bar pulled out all kinds of guide books and starting writing down recommendations of places we should visit. She was so nice!! If that’s the way people are in Lisbon, this promises to be a memorable trip!!

As for the long-held rivalry between Spain and Portugal, the girls assure me they have never once experienced it here in Barcelona. They mostly get surprise and interest from locals as they discover the rich culture of the little country on the other side of the peninsula. One young guy exclaimed “wow! they make wine in Portugal??” The girls just smile incredulous and without missing a beat go on to introduce the poor soul into the richness of the Portuguese wine industry.

With a space so inviting and warm, there’s no way the rivalry could last ;) These are the pictures of last night’s port wine tasting event:

Portuguese goodies

hmmm, those jams and fruits look wonderful…


Clever way of displaying bottles of vinegar

serving port Cash

A Casa Portuguesa is on C/ Verdi 58, Gracia, Barcelona. Check out their website on . Don’t miss the Ginginha de Óbidos (sweet cherry liquor) served in chocolate cups. The Pasteis de Belem are also very good.

Moleskine City Notebooks

Today I bought the Paris, Lisbon & Barcelona editions of the Moleskine City Notebooks. I first heard about them last year and had been eagerly waiting their release. They are basically the travel guidebook that you write yourself – you can see what I mean here. I have already started copying some of my Paris info into the new Moleskine and collecting Lisbon info for our trip in december. Can’t wait!!


After we bought the moleskines, we stopped at a few camera shops – Alan is researching which camera DSLR to buy – and I got myself a new lens for my film camera. It’s a 50mm 1.4f autofocus lens, a great lens  with which to learn photography and a rare find these days. I got it for a good price at Casanova on C/ Pelai, an amazing photo store.

Camera lens

We then proceeded to Wushu for another amazing meal and a nice chat with Paula and Bradley. We started with a salmon tataki and I then had their house pad thai (amazing glass noodles with sepia) and Alan had the yakisoba with ternera. We finished it off with some great brownies and chocolate ice cream. Life is good…

Lisbon, here we come!!

Lisbon at Christmas

The main plan when we first got to Barcelona was to spend the year here for my dissertation research and then move on to Lisbon when I finished my degree to research a second project there. But then we fell in love with Barcelona and, suddenly, my second project in Lisbon didn’t sound so good anymore. I needed to find ways of staying in Barcelona. Who cares about Portugal?

Well, fate is funny and it has it that many of our good friends here have lived in Lisbon and they all LOVE it. Jackie & Sebastian lived there and they introduced us to many of their Lisbon friends who come for a visit. Naomi was there last week and loved it. Suddenly the interest to go to Portugal rekindled and we have booked our flight for a long weekend in december. We leave Dec 8th and come back on the 12th. Can’t wait!!!