Tag Archives: portugal

A Canção de Lisboa – Day 2: Alfama and the Oceanarium

Never let it be said that we don’t pack things into a day on holiday. So many things done today that it really feels like a day of two (rather different) halves.

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We started out by heading for one of the three Lonely Planet Travellist places that I am hoping to hit up on this trip. Our walk took us first to Lisbon Cathedral, whose presence was absolutely massive amongst the surrounding smaller houses.

Inside it is a bit barer than some of the other cathedrals I have been to recently, but there are still some really impressive architectural aspects. To get into the main cathedral is free, but if you want to venture around the cloisters and treasury there is a 4€ fee.

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Well worth it just to know that the money is going towards the upkeep of the cathedral and the archaeological excavation currently happening on the centre of the cloisters. Already they have been able to find old Roman and Islamic remains. Who knows what else they’ll find.

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The treasury is worth it just to be able to get the view from above the cathedral. Never have I ever been so close to a stained glass window that I could make out such a wealth of detail. It made me wish I knew more about the saints and their symbols to better identify them. Hey ho.img_3989
We went across the road to the Church of St Anthony. I think this is the first time that I have been to a church build on the birthplace of a Saint. As you can probably guess, that meant this church had its fair share of pilgrims making their way to the crypt to say their prayers before buying things from the gift shop.

As for us we were able to enjoy the opulent decorations on display in the main church. Gold, gold, gold as far as the eye could see. Also the desiccated corpse of a young Saint Justina. The second time, after Catania, where I have seen a dead body on display in a church.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 62/100img_3994Sight: Lisbon’s Alfama
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Position: #336

So here we are in the first of the Lonely Planet Travelist areas in Lisbon. Alfalfa is an area of Lisbon characterized by winding streets, colourful buildings, lots of little shops and quite a few churches.

It’s hard to just to talk about an area like its a landmark, but it was just such a pleasure to walk through its streets and take in the surrounding as we went higher and higher.

At the top of the hill, and I think technically out of the Alfama, is the Castelo de São Jorge. At the top of one of the towers is, as we overheard from a guided tour, the highest point in Lisbon.

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This is another one of the places where you could just spend a wealth of time taking in the views. We did take our sweet time in the castle grounds just looking at as many different views of Lisbon as we could find.

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The castle itself was large and impressive. Just reading up on the age of some parts of this castle (we’re talking 12th century here, with the hill having been occupied since 4th century BC) just makes you feel humble. That is until you find yourself hugging walls as you clamber down steep stairs whilst singing the New Girl theme song.

This was the end of the first half of the day. The middle was characterised by getting annoyed at the Lisbon bus system after buses just didn’t arrive when they were meant to (as in we waited for 40 minutes and the bus that was meant to run ‘every 15 minutes’ just didn’t materialise… we later found out that the road was closed for works some 100 metres away) so let’s skip on through.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Dieimg_4015Food item: Sweet Marjoram

Lunch was at about 2pm in the cafe attached to the Lisbon Oceanarium. It was here that I somehow managed to tick off a food item since they used sweet marjoram in one of their sandwiches. It just goes to prove that you never really know when you are going to come across one of these. Maybe Lisbon is just a treasure trove of these.

A quick lunch later and we were in the Oceanarium, which is apparently the largest indoors aquarium in Europe. It was also magnificent.

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The whole thing is centred around one large ocean tank that contains my new best friend: a sunfish that I have called Derp. There are other things in there like devil rays, groupers, sharks and guitarfish; but Derp is truly the magnetic presence of the tank. Okay maybe not, just watching the fish was enough, but actually seeing a sunfish in the flesh was something truly special.

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There are a lot of other exhibits in the aquarium including penguins, puffins, otters, jellyfish and a whole wealth of other creatures. Seriously, this is an impressive aquarium to visit and (thanks to it being a Thursday in the off season) it was actually rather quiet. It meant that we could just take our time and take pictures of our favourite fish.

We wandered through the Parque de Nações before taking the metro back home. This park, which was the location of the 1998 World Expo feels so wonderfully modern. So many interesting looking buildings and sites that kinda reminded me of Odaiba.

Dinner was further proof of the wealth of 1001 foods available in Lisbon. It was not a place that I would have normally gone in, but TripAdvisor and a pre-visit glance at the menu persuaded me that it would be worth the visit.

img_4047Food item: Suckling Pig

To help me with the ticking off (as well as ensuring he got a good meal) hub went for the sucking pig. It was a mountain of pork like I had not expected for 11€. In the UK you would probably have to pay 2-3 times that.

Now, on one level I disagree with the concept of sucking pig wholeheartedly, but my god was this good. So very tender they it just collapsed off of the bone. Also, as pork goes, it was a sweet meat. This is a good thing.

img_4048Food item: Black Scabbard Fish

So, the waiter tried to warn me off this. Like he actually told me what this fish looked like and that it basically wasn’t a normal fish. I got a “don’t complain if you don’t like it”

I did not complain. I adored this. It was some of the best fish I have ever had and I can’t think of what I’d compare it too. Perhaps eel would be closest, just not as oily. It was very close textured and slightly salty.

I would have this again. And might do if we find it in another place. Or just visit this place again. Usually a no no for me on holiday, but there are a lot of other things I want from this menu.

img_4049Food item: Guarana
Progress: 585/751

This was not the end of the food items today. Oh no. We actually managed to pick up some Brazilian guarana soda on the way home! I hadn’t really thought about it , but it makes sense that you could get some Brazilian things here. It tastes like a refreshing tropical berry that’s like a nicer version of Red Bull. That’s about it, I have no other touchstones for this..

So that’s today. This may be one of the longest blog posts I have written for a good while. Time for bed so I can be up early tomorrow for our trip to Sintra!

A Canção de Lisboa – Day 1: Arrival

It feels like only yesterday that we arrived back from our trip to Netherlands. Maybe because it was only a week and a half ago. At any rate, I could quite easily get used to being in and out of airports considering how much time I have been spending there recently.

For this latest mini-break I find myself returning to Portugal since I was last here 16 years ago. I don’t remember too much about the previous trip, but there are some things that feel familiar. Mainly the smell of the tree sap as we walked through the greener areas and the patterns of the tiles on the floors and walls.

The first day is always a bit odd, especially when you arrive in the mid-afternoon. Too much time to not do anything, but not enough time to do anything sizeable. So we just wandered around the nearby area.

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The bus ride from the airport was already making me feel like this was a city I could fall for. A shop like this? Well that just sweetens the deal. We didn’t go inside because… well I’m not entirely sure if we’d make it out without buying a can of sardines with our birth year on it.

One thing I had never appreciated about Lisbon is that it is a coastal capital. But there it is, the estuary of the Tejo River as it enters the Atlantic Ocean. The smell of the sea is faint, but very much there as you head to the river’s edge. I guess that must be because this is brackish water rather than seawater.

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We reach the river as the sun is going down and the view is beautiful. The light of the sun is so very red. The surrounding buildings are glowing as if they are facing a gigantic bonfire. The bank is very crowded as we all gather to watch the sun going down.

After some sun watching (and after turning down a vendor’s offer of cheap marijuana) we headed back up to the Rossio area where our hotel is.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Dieimg_3958Food item: Azores Pineapple

On the way back we happened across a shop I was looking to go into tomorrow. A shop that specialises in food from the Azores. I had researched this and was ready to buy a pineapple for the food list with no plan of how I’d be able to eat the damned thing.

Luckily they had free samples of the pineapple on offer, so I was able to try it there and then without having to fruit wrestle. This tasted unlike any pineapple I has experienced before. The flavour just exploded in my mouth. It felt like a sweet and concentrated pineapple flavour that I would normally have in a sweet. So basically it’s the best pineapple I’ve ever had and I’ve bought some pineapple jam to try and recreate this experience at home.

Dinner was at a small place near the hotel. I’ve purposely been researching places to go that were Tripadvisor friendly and would not break the bank. We managed to get a meal for three here for 26€, so I think I did a good job.

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Food item: Alheiras De Mirandela

I got myself the Alheiras De Mirandela and had the most cultured sausage, egg and chips that I have ever had. The sausage itself was mushy on the inside. As in it felt like it was very freshly made (rather than processed) where you could appreciate the textures of the meat and how the smokiness of the meat changed depending on the closeness of the texture.

The sausage itself has an interesting history and dates back to the days of the Portuguese Inquisition. Jews would make these sausages with chicken and hang them up in their smokehouses. By doing so it would like they were eating pork and, as such, had converted to Christianity. Such a clever, yet simple, idea.

img_3960Food item: Gilthead Bream
Progress: 581/751

Hub did me the favour by having the ‘dourada’ or gilthead bream. The skin looked a beautiful golden colour, I guess to match the name which comes from the Portuguese word for ‘gold’. My husband was a little bit taken aback with the toothy fish head that had been nestled underneath some green beans, but he made the best of it.

I lack the fish vocabulary to discuss this properly. It was close textured whitefish that tasted very fresh and still had remnants of the seas saltiness in its flesh. The taste was more on par with richness of trout and mackerel than something like cod.

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We ended the day as I think we are going to end it whilst we are here – with a clutch of Portuguese egg custard tarts. I’m so looking forward the next few days and seeing more of this city

Around The World In 100 Films – Portugal

100WorldFilms - PortugalList Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 40/100

Title: A Canção de Lisboa
Director: José Cottinelli Telmo
Year: 1933
Country: Portugal

It has been almost  a year since I added another country to my list. I have been so focussed on finishing off the Best Picture list and on progressing with the 1001 list that I have been forgetting to look at this one.

I guess that Portuguese stall at Startisans (and the £30 I ended up spending) helped inspire me. I mean, why not go whole hog and eat Portuguese food whilst watching a Portuguese movie.

My pick for Portugal, A Canção de Lisboa, is the second talkie that was made in Portugal. A musical comedy (where the music happens more organically than your regular musical) that remains popular to this day in its native country. A phrase from the film, which literally translated means “there are many hats, you fool”, has even entered the Portuguese lexicon.

As a comedy from the 1930s there are a lot of  elements that I can recognise. The deadbeat womanizing man who lies and sponges off his aunts whilst he fails his exams to become a doctor. He loses everything and then makes good in the end. The woman with the Louise Brooks style bobbed cut who dumps him only to take him back in the end. Disapproving rich relatives. Yes, it’s a pretty standard formula, but it’s the touches of rather odd one-liners and fado music that make this film what it is.

I don’t quite get how someone like Vasco (the lead) can be a great womanizer as he looks like a cross between Fatty Arbuckle and Steve Pemberton in Tubbs make-up. I guess that’s Portugal for you? I mean, he even knows what the mastoid is so…. swoon?

My favourite musical number of the film is that depicted in the picture. It’s a small festival involving balloons (or possibly lanterns) being set alight. In the musical number the fighting couple have essentially made effigies of each other and sing about their problems. It’s quite a fun number in a strange way.

Not as fun or as strange as one that Alice, the girlfriend, later sings after winning a sewing competition. That number about the needle and the handsome thimble just gets weirder and weirder. Then again, that’s Portugal for you.

The Great EU Quest – Catch-Up

It’s a new year, and I realise that, since I am only a few months away from the post marking the end of my second year of posting, I really should be playing catch-up on writing these up.

Without a further to-do, I am going to go through the three EU countries that I have been to to date (because, as of writing this, I have booked a trip to Luxembourg) which have yet to receive a write-up.

Why have I not written any of these up yet? Because I have no photographs…

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 12/28
Country: Portugal
Year first visited: 1998

The sad thing about this, is that the reason why I remember the year of visiting Portugal (The Algarve to be specific) so clearly is because of Steps. As in, I brought the CD single of Steps’ ‘One For Sorrow’ with me and I would do the dance routine in the living room of the villa.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about this holiday. I have ‘One For Sorrow’ playing as I right this as a way to try and bring back some memories… and there is not much. I remember we had a pool there with a yellow and green inflatable shark. I remember a drive down a really bumpy road late at night which freaked me out. I remember a lot of beach trips and, being the ginger that I am, having to wear a t-shirt at all times because of the paleness.

The main memory that comes to mind (thank you Steps) took place in a restaurant where I ordered scampi. Being a Brit I expected something deep fried and instead I got the whole prawns with the heads still on. They were massive and they were just staring at me. I may have freaked out slightly and the poor waited took the dish back to have the prawns decapitated. Bit of a dumb memory really.

I do plan to rectify this with some real memories of Portugal. I have wanted to go to The Azores for years and now, thanks to a new flight path, it’s gotten cheaper to go. So, who knows, maybe in a year or two I’ll be heading that way.

Country: Czech Republic
Year first visited: 1999

Right, so I have technically been to the Czech Republic twice. The first time, in 1999, was during a trip to Austria when we went to Český Krumlov for the day. I remember it being really beautiful and my mum scouring the shops looking for a good matryoshka doll set. She still has that, and I still have the wooden chess set that I bought from there.

The major visit I made there was a long weekend to Prague in 2002, I only remember the year because I was making “get off the road” jokes wake of Fellowship of the Ring. As a pre-teen I know I probably was not the target Prague audience… it needs a revisit.

Country: Germany
Year first visited: 2000

I am so sad that I don’t have any pictures of these visits. I’ve been three times, and each time was to Munich for the Christmas market (although the third time did also include a visit to Nuremberg). I have been wanting to go back there for a long time, but the stars have yet to align.

And why would I not want to go back? German food, Christmas coming out of the wazoo, possible re-visit to Neuschwanstein and the surrounding areas. I also need to see Berlin. Still not sure how I have not been there…

The Great E.U. Quest – The Starting Point

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 12/28

I am a very lucky person in a number of ways. Despite being the child of a single mother (who is the best mum a guy can ask for) we still managed to have the most amazing holidays. I still can not quite believe how many different countries I have under my belt at the age of 24.

This particular bucket list item is a curious one since it is another that has a potential to be completed and then become incomplete within my lifetime. The item being to visit every country within the European Union.

Europe Visited - 1

The map (see above) shows how far I have gotten so far (although due to scaling there is no way to see Malta but for this exercise it should be a yellow colour since I haven’t seen it).

So far I have had the privilege of visiting 12 of the current E.U. nations and they are coloured in as blue on the map, something that struck me immediately is how all the countries I have been to are linked together on the map; except for Portugal since I have not been to Spain yet.

At some point in the future I will write about visiting each one when I am up to date with all the items I have already since I did promise proof. But for now I am writing this to officially class this item as being in progress.

If you have any suggestions of trips I should make to help cross off some of the remaining 16 E.U. nations (Spain, Ireland, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and Luxembourg) I would love to hear from you since I have yet to book a holiday for this year :-D.