LISBON – FROM PHOENICIANS TO FADO 

Elizabeth Handley meanders through the Other City on Seven Hills amd reports back on the secret Lisbon

– Part Two –

Sintra---shopping-alley

Sintra Shopping – “When you spot a fine trophy on your travels, buy it immediately – even if you think you can do better elsewhere!” 

No trip to Lisbon is complete without a trip to the Belém (Portuguese for Bethlehem) area west of the city, and its much-painted, much-photographed emblematic Torre (Tower) de Belém. I decided to do this tour from the comfort of an air-conditioned Cityrama/Greyline http://www.cityrama.pt/en/, coach (€35), with interesting information provided by Maria, our trilingual guide.

Belem---Monument-to-the-Angolan-FallenBelem---Torre-de-Belem---Lisbon
Monument to the Angolan FallenElizabeth Handley at Torre de Belém

We passed through the Bairro Alto district, picking up other tourists from half a dozen other hotels, and I became aware once more of the shabby state of many of the buildings. Many pretty curlicued wrought-iron balconies are rusty, and tufts of grass sprouts from rooftop gutters, and crevices in the once beautifully-tiled walls. Lovely ornate architecture and gracious apartments bear testimony to a bygone era of elegance and wealth. Many streets are filled with wind-blown litter, and it’s wise to watch one’s step to avoid the “obstacles” deposited by the local owners’ dogs. There is clearly no money to clean up the city, and, after the pristine cleanliness of comparatively wealthy and cooler Stockholm, it took me a while to adjust to the heat and litter of this once magnificent, but utterly fascinating old city. I understand now why I hear so many Latin languages in our Old Town during the summer months: the inhabitants of southern Europe have fled north to escape the heat and crowds, while those of us from northern climes fly south to seek the sunshine.

Outdoor-restaurant---Esplanad-Lost-inPastry-coffee-shop-since-1829
Outdoor restaurant – EsplanadConfeitaria Nacional confectioner since 1829

Once all the hotels on the Cityrama pick-up route had been visited, we were taken to the central kiosk at the foot of Parque Eduaro VII – an extensive green belt that runs diagonally across the Lisbon city map, and which was named after the King of England’s visit to Lisbon in 1902. I had walked down the length of the park that morning, and found the fountains still, and a limp swan resting by a large stagnant pond. We were then directed to our relevant coaches, depending upon our afternoon tours. My only other companions were a charming Singaporean estate agent, and a young Swiss-German couple.

Praca-do-Principe-Real

Placa-das-Flores---feeding-the-pigeons-in-the-parkPlaca-das-Flores----political-debate

Praca do Principe Real, Placa das Flores – feeding the pigeons in the park & political debate! 

On our way to Belém we passed the elegantly-arched Aqueduto das Águas Livres spanning the Alcântara Valley, which, although only completed during the 19th century, began supplying the city with water in1748. We then drove across the impressive kilometer-long suspension bridge, the Ponte 25 de Abril, built in 1966 to commemorate the restoration of democracy to Portugal. Looming above the southern end of the bridge is the modern, 28-meter-high monument of Cristo Rei (Christ the King, 1949-59) with outstretched arms, looking out towards the River Tagus and old Lisbon, and modeled on the similar edifice towering above Rio de Janeiro. On the other side of the bridge we were taken through a beautiful, well-healed residential area, home to many of the embassies.

The impressive Belém Tower was the point of departure for the caravels of Vasco da Gama (c.1460-1524) and his fellow navigators. From here they set sail to conquer the unknown – and the financially rewarding trade routes. It was built in the signature “Manueline Style” in 1514-20 by Manuel I as a fortress, and came to represent Portugal’s great era of expansion and wealth. The exterior is beautifully decorated, with rope carved in stone, Moorish-styled watchtowers, and battlements in the shape of shields. The statue of Our Lady of Safe Homecoming stands facing seawards on the terrace, and became a symbol of protection for the seafarers.

The Belém area is rich in monuments and museums, as well as the magnificent Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, (another of the “Top 10”), a monastery commissioned by Manuel I in around 1501, and a monument to Manueline architecture and the wealth of the Age of Discovery. (The Estilo Maneulino features many interesting symbols. Wikipedia: the armillary sphere (a navigational instrument and the personal emblem of Manuel I and also symbol of the cosmos), spheres, anchors, anchor chains, ropes and cables. Elements from the sea, such as shells, pearls and strings of seaweed. Botanical motifs such as laurel branches, oak leaves, acorns, poppy capsules, corncobs, thistles. Symbols of Christianity such as the cross of the Order of Christ (former Templar knights), the military order that played a prominent role and helped finance the first voyages of discovery. The cross of this order decorated the sails of the Portuguese ships. Elements from newly discovered lands (such as the tracery in the Claustro Real in the Monastery of Batalha, suggesting Islamic filigree work, influenced by buildings in India.) Columns carved like twisted strands of rope.)

There is a tropical botanical garden, filled with exotic plants from Portugal’s former colonies, the Palácio de Belém (also known as the “Pink Palace”), formerly a royal palace and now the residence of the Portuguese President (currently Aníbal António Cavaco Silva), and the Praça do Império, a great square with ancient olive, almond, mimosa and cyprus trees. (Photographs only possible in between busloads of Oriental tourists.)

Museums include those for antique coaches, archeology, “popular Portuguese art”, modern art, a Cultural Centre, and a Maritime Museum, located in the chapel of the monastery. This chapel was built by Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) who, it is said, founded a school for navigation in the Algarve. It was in this chapel that the sailors took mass before embarking on their voyages.

Monuments include that to “The Angolan Fallen” and the Monument to the Discoveries.  The latter was built in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, and is a massive carved stone edifice in the shape of a caravel. In the front stands King Henry, holding a model caravel, followed by the great seafarers: Vasco da Gama, Fernão Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan, c.1480-1521), and Diogo Cão (Cam, c.1452-c.1486), among many others. At the foot of the Monument I saw an artist painting popular scenes of Lisbon, and could not resist buying one of his paintings depicting the old No.28 tram toiling up a steeply-curved street, geranium-filled balconies, an ornate wrought-iron lantern, and the twin towers of São Vicente de Fora.

In front of the Monument lies a vast  mariner’s compass laid in the paving stones – a gift from South Africa in 1960. The central map, dotted with galleons and mermaids, marks the routes of the discoveries during the 15th and 16th centuries.

After taking a picture for my companion Jeremy, and vice versa, we fortified ourselves at a seaside café with fresh orange juice and the signature pastéis de Belém (rich custard in a flaky pastry cup – also available at Fournos bakeries in Jhb).

We then returned to the city, and went on a short walking tour through the narrow  cobblestoned Alfama district – the ancient, medieval heart of the city. Remnants of an old town wall bear testimony to Visigothic occupation, but it was the Moors who gave the Alfama its labyrinthine layout and atmosphere. A  number of earthquakes destroyed most of the mansions and medieval churches built there, and it became primarily a working-class quarter for the fisherfolk. Jess and I had walked through this area the Sunday afternoon we arrived, and were disappointed to find everything closed, with not much taking place.

The lyrical descriptions in guide books had been somewhat misleading, and I had expected more of the tourist-friendly infrastructure of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan, or the “Old Towns” in Prague and Tallinn, with shops, cafés and restaurants open every day until late. But the Alfama is predominantly residential today, and even during the week we found it comparatively bereft of eateries, souvenir stalls, and shops selling local crafts. These were more plentiful in the downtown Baixa area, that part of the city fronting the River Tagus. But the Alfama emanated its fascinating history, and I walked with reverent  awe in the footsteps of Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors. I was also disappointed to miss (due to inaccurate planning) the legendary Feira da Ladra (Thieves’ Market), selling a glorious array of bric-á-brac and antique junk, but open only twice a week: Tuesday and Saturdays. (“Ladra” means a female thief in Portuguese, but the word actually derives from “ladro” – a bug found in antiques.)

Alfama-The-SeAlfama - villa
Alfama – the SéAlfama – Villa

The other venerable café, Martinho da Arcada, is situated under the arcades surrounding the magnificent riverfront Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square); it has a beautifully tiled interior and has had an illustrious history since 1782. An excellent Tourist Information Ccentre, where much useful information and brochures are available, is located at the north west corner of the Plaça do Comércio.

The Rua Augusta, which ends in the impressive Arco (Arch) da Rua Augusta, and parallel Rua da Prata, lie nearby in the grid-plan Baixa (Low) area redesigned by Pombal after the 1755 earthquake, and are magnificent avenues in which to shop.

The other main shopping avenue is the Avenida da Liberdade (Liberty) – akin to the Champs Elyssés in Paris with its magnificent tree-lined layout, and hosting  the usual designer boutiques and emporia: Louis Vuitton, Massimo Dutti, Loewe, Prada, Mango, “Emporio Almani”, etc., as well as restaurants, banks and smart hotels.

We began our second morning with a fascinating sojourn through Memórias da Cidade – The Lisbon Story Centre. This is an excellent, brand-new walk-through exhibition of the city’s history, from ancient to modern times (www.visitlisboa.com). It is situated between the Terreiro do Paço (Palace Square) and the Praça do Comercio.

To quote the pamphlet: “…the starting point for one of the most fascinating journeys through time: a path through the drama, passion and glory of one of the world’s most ancient cities… Throughout 60 minutes of sensorial experiences you shall immerse yourself in twenty centuries of facts, myths and realities led by many and different multilingual characters, They shall introduce you to real heroes, such as the mythical Ulysses or the Marquis de Pombal, the reformer. They shall lead us into the drama of the most destructive earthquake to hit Europe or witness the exotic city of the time of the discoveries…Yet there is so much more! Among the realistic settings and multimedia immersive experiences, we highlight the virtual model that enables each of the visitors to interact with Lisbon’s main events. The path the starts with the first civilizations and ends today is completed by the temporary exhibitions.”

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this excellent, modern centre – too new to appear in the guide books, but which we discovered through pamphlets at the Tourist Information Centre. Especially evocative was the recreation of the 1755 earthquake, complete with terrifying surround-sound effects and trembling interior space. (€7 pp, €5 for students. Those with student offspring MUST remember to bring their student cards with them on overseas trips, to ensure cheaper entrance fees and discounts.)

The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (Ancient Art) is housed in a 17th century palace that was built for the counts of Alvor. In 1770 (the year of Beethoven’s birth), it was acquired by the Marquês de Pombal, and remained in his family for over a century. It was inaugurated in 1884, and added on to 1940.

I found this museum disappointing, firstly because the halls of Portuguese paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries that our tour guide Maria had recommended, was closed for refurbishment, and secondly because of the relatively disappointing standard of the Portuguese paintings that were still on view to visitors. I began to understand why no Portuguese painters had featured in my university art history course (nor Portuguese composers in the music history syllabus), on account of their gloomy darkness, and inferiority in terms of colour, composition and general skill. No doubt there will be those that refute my view, but I saw nothing of the brilliance of Michelangelo, Raphael, Dürer, David, Poussin, or any other great and well-known painters of the Dutch, Flemish, or English Schools. Perhaps if I had had access to the Portuguese paintings, I would have had a better impression.

There were, however, some works by famous painters (H. Bosch, Dürer, Cranach, Pierro della Francesca and Raphael), and much beautiful Portuguese antique furniture, sculptures and objects d’art, but nothing that prompted me to tarry there (apart from the musty antique coolth), or to buy a postcard from the paltry museum shop. I had the sense that the place was “on holiday”, closed and neglected, and conspicuously bereft of tourists.

FHowever, I was transfixed by one painting, “The Supplication of Inêz de Santos”  by  Francisco Vieira Portuense, a Portuguese Painter (Oporto 1765 – Madeira 1805). Inês de Castro (1325-1355) was the mistress of King Pedro I of Portugal (1320-1367) and their tragic/romantic tale features significantly in Portuguese history and mythology – and more.

There are many interesting day trips that can be taken to destinations “further afield” from Lisbon: Sintra, Cabo da Roca, Cascais and Estrella beaches, the Fátima Sanctuary, Arrábida & Sesimbra, and an Évora wine tour – amongst many others. A variety of coach tour companies offer such tours, as well as Segway, Gocar and Beetle city tours. I chose Cityrama as I knew this company from excellent tours in and around Paris with the girls some years ago. Aware of a drop in standard, from a Cityrama tour to Reims with Pete last year, I was not expecting the same degree of quality as we had enjoyed in the early 2000’s. I was thus not disappointed with my day trip to Sintra (€72) with this company, led by “Mr. Nuno”, (driver), and Louisa, who rattled off information in Portuguese, English,  Spanish and French. I marvel at these multilingual tour guides, and their ability to keep their languages apart, unlike I, who find it difficult to keep French and Swedish apart whilst trying to switch languages between my friends here in Stockholm.

Apart from enjoying listening to such linguistic articulation, and the erudition of the guides, I also enjoy exchanging travel news and tips with the other tourists. Many a useful piece of information has been gleaned this way, and I am always eager for ideas, pen and notebook at the ready.

Sintra (named in honour of the goddess of the moon) is small town situated 28 km from Lisbon, and is a fairytale place of fantasy palaces, lush parks and picturesque buildings. The wooded valleys and fresh water springs made it a favourite summer retreat for the Portuguese kings, and thousands of tourists visit there every year. Byron once lived there, in a villa now known as the Hotel Lawrence.

Pena palace courtyard
Pena Palace courtyard

I loved the Pena Palace – one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, and the most romantic of the three principle palaces in Sintra. Mr. Nuno skilfully manipulated our coach up a narrow road winding road up to the summit, flanked on either side by ancient pines and villas, and groves of orange trees.

The Palace is a quirky medley of different architectural styles, and was built during the19th century for the consort of Queen Maria II, Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. It stands on a high hill on the site of a 15th century Hieronymite monastery, and commands fabulous views over the surrounding countryside towards the sea. The studded entrance arch, with its crenellated turrets and royal escutcheon, opens onto a view of a quirky palace painted daffodil yellow and strawberry pink. (“No wonder they got rid of them”, was the caustic remark my caustic Australian companion, referring the to “mad” royalty of bygone Europe, which included King Ludwig II of Bavaria and his fairytale castle Neuschwanstein – the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle.)

Louisa took us on a guided tour of the interior, which included Manuel II’s bedroom, the Arab Room – with trompe-l’oeil frescoes covering the walls and ceiling, a chapel, a cloister, the kitchen, a ballroom – sumptuously furnished with German stained-glass windows and Oriental porcelain, antique bathrooms, and beautifully-tiled courtyards. It is filled with oddities from all over the world: beautiful glassware, metal statuettes, an ornate French upright piano, cabinets of magnificent porcelain dinnerware, and pretty chandeliers.

Sintra town is thoroughly geared to tourists, with numerous cobbled streets crammed with overflowing Aladdin’s caves of souvenirs and good-quality handmade Portuguese wares: beautifully embroidered articles and decorative ceramics, wooden-carved and terracotta items, and goods made from cork, including handbags and purses.

I decided against partaking of the group tour lunch, and instead bought a piece of mushroom and leek quiche, with a glass of ice-cold, freshly-squeezed orange juice, at a local pasteleria. I then strolled down a steep hill, past the bizarre tiled Fonte Mourisca (Arab Fountain) to the Parque da Liberdade – a peaceful Garden of Eden filled with vigorous, heat-loving exotic plants.

My tiring walk was rewarded with the signature sweetmeat of the town, bought at the famous Casa de Sapa pasteleria: a freshly-baked Queljadinha de Sintra, a small cake with a rich filling made from grated coconut and cheese, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, butter and egg yolks sprinkled with cinnamon, in a crisp-hard pastry shell. Delicious!

Next on our itinerary was the cool, wind-blown Cabo da Roca, with a red-topped lighthouse to mark the westernmost point of all Europe, (Ponte mais ocidental do continente Europeu.) The 16th-century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões described Cabo da Roca as the place Onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa (“where the land ends and the sea begins”.) To our disappointment the entire Cape was shrouded in thick mist, and we were unable to see the lighthouse, or the raging Atlantic Ocean far beneath. But we were able to see the stone monument that stands there, topped with a cross, and to photograph the inscriptions thereon: “Latitude 38¤ 47 north, Longitude 9¤ 30 west, Altitude 140 m above sea level.”

Rossio-Station---facadeRuins-of-Carmelite-Church---Bairro-Alto
Rossio Station – facadeRuins of Carmelite Church – Bairro Alto

Then we drove through the countryside towards the sea, past villages where wine has been made since the 17th century, and the popular beaches of Cascais and Estrella. Cascais has been a holiday resort for over a century, and has a number of attractive turreted hotels, a marina, a massive casino, and a sandy sheltered beach which was filled, that hot, sunny afternoon, with throngs of colourful, tanned holidaymakers. A railway line was extended there from Lisbon in 1889, and the area then expanded rapidly.

On my return to Lisbon, and before liaising with Jess, I made a pilgrimage to another church on my to-see list, high on a hill in the Bairro Alto district: São Roque.

The plain exterior of this church, founded towards the end of the 16th century by the Jesuit Order, belies an extravagantly rich interior. It was constructed in Rome, embellished with lapis lazuli, agate, alabaster, amethyst, precious marbles, gold, silver and mosaics, blessed by the Pope, dismantled, and taken to Lisbon in three ships.

Sadly I was again too late to see much of this church, as I arrived as it was closing – at 7 pm. But I was rewarded with other unexpected delights that evening, beginning with an open-air Fado concert in the square outside.

Fado is the signature music of Lisbon, and, like the blues, it is an expression of longing and sorrow. It relates to the concept known as saudade, meaning a longing for both what has been lost, and that which has never been attained – which accounts for its potent emotional power. This poignant art form has been nurtured in the back-street cafés and restaurants of Lisbon for over a century, and is sung by both women and men, accompanied by a guitar, and that night also by a guitarra – a twelve-stringed instrument shaped like a mandolin which produces a silvery-sweet timbre.

It was such a pleasant surprise, to find myself amongst cheerful Lisboitas in the twilight of a hot summer evening, armed with plastic cups of beer from a kiosk in the centre of the church square.

The first artist was a feisty plump “Mama” in her mid-sixties, with a flash of green in her white hair, and a green silk scarf to match. As she sang heart-stirring songs, she cast amongst the onlookers white plastic roses with her name attached on a little card, one of which I was delighted to catch. She didn’t only sing soulful songs, but also launched into well-known popular evening melodies from my childhood, which enabled me to hum along with the rest of the delighted audience.

Whilst waiting for Jess to meet me there, I took a quick recci up the steep narrow road flanking the church, and came upon another unexpected treasure: the Miradouro (belvedere) de São Pedro de Alcântra – a large, tree-shaded hillside terrace with a triple-tiered fountain, and a marvelous sunset view of the city. I could see over the honey-coloured, red-tiled roofs as far as the Castelo de São Jorge on the opposite hill, the Alfama with the old Sé, and down to the River Tagus. A loan guitarist was seated on one of the benches singing popular melodies, his coin-filled cap at his feet. Below the terrace is another terrace garden, filled with neat rectangular beds of roses.

As soon as Jess had joined me, and we had taken endless photographs of this fabulous, romantic view, we determined to find an eatery nearby, from which this view, along the cliff edge of the Bairro Alto, could still be enjoyed.

In no time at all, we found the place we had in mind, a neo-Zanzibarian café, reached along a short inconspicuous alley on the edge of the Bairro Alto hill: lostin ESPLANDA and BAR (www.lostin.com.pt Excellent friendly service.) As the verandah area, filled with ornate wrought-iron chaise lounges and sofas with colourful oriental awnings and cushions, was already full, we grudgingly opted for an inside table near a large window; the view was still wonderful. Jess ordered lamb chops served on a large flat potato-cake, with chilled home-made mint tea, and I a Caesar’s salad. The crispy potato-cake which we shared was delicious, making up for my sub-standard salad. But the atmosphere of lostin was magical, and was just another of many experiences that fill me with the desire to return to Lisbon as soon as possible.

The DK Eyewitness Travel book on Lisbon includes two “Guided Walks, the second of which I decided to do on our last full day.

Basilica da Estrela

Basilica da Estrela

My starting point was the Basilica da Estrela – a magnificent Portuguese Baroque edifice with a charming history: Queen Maria I (daughter of José I, known as “Maria the Pious”, or “Maria the Mad”) vowed to built a church if she gave birth to a son. This she did, and construction of the basilica began in 1779. Sadly her son José died of smallpox before the completion of the church in 1790, but it still stands on a hill in the east of the city as one of Lisbon’s great landmarks. (Queen Maria suffered from religious mania, melancholia, and later “madness”. This acute mental illness (possibly due to porphyria, which also may have tainted George III of England) made her incapable of handling state affairs after 1792. However, she is considered as having been a good ruler during the period prior to her illness. Her next surviving son became King João VI.)

Locked in a room just off the nave is Machado de Castro’s extraordinary Nativity Scene: over 500 brightly-painted figures made entirely from cork and terracotta. The crib is surrounded by layers of clouds sustaining myriads of angels in adoration, the three Kings (Wise Men), the shepherds, and people of all races, rich and poor, engaged in everyday activities. This unique and magnificent work of art is unique as it is also the only crib to depict the gruesome Slaughter of the Innocents – a consequence of Herod’s fears about the rising power of the Messiah, as told to him by the Kings. To quote the poetic pamphlet: “The wonder of this Nativity is not just what is visible to the eyes, but the feeling it conveys of a hymn to life, a message of peace and joy. With the representation of the crib of the Infant Jesus, the Artist awakens the child that exists within each one of us, opening up our hearts to beauty, innocence and messianic joy… Glory to God in the Highest and peace to all Men on Earth!”

I continued my self-guided walk through the beautiful Jardim da Estrela, another Portuguese Eden, with formal flower beds, shady elms and plane trees, and a quaint green wrought-iron music pavilion. I paused at the pond-side café with a cold drink, resting from the blistering heat, and watching the people around me: a mother nursing her baby, old men – doubtless discussing politics, and an old lady feeding the pigeons. What a beautiful race the Portuguese are: Striking slender girls with long brown hair, dark eyes and skin, dashing cavaleiro youths, and handsome older men with iron-grey hair and a noble bearing. The “mamas” are like those in any Mediterranean country: short and stout, with an ample bosom and a twinkle in the eye.

I then walked down the Rua de São Bento, passing and peeking into tempting antique shops along the way, to the impressive Palácio de São Bento – now the seat of the Portuguese Parliament. At the pretty little Praça das Flores I became completely confused as to where to proceed, but fortunately happened upon a young Irish couple on the same mission. Together we figured out our next step, and continued to the Jardim Botânico (Botanical Gardens). As it was far too hot to remain out in the sunshine, and beginning to experience dizzy spells, I escaped to the cool shade of the Praça do Príncipe Real (Park of the Royal Prince), where I tarried at a café for a lunch consisting of a delicious salad with tuna and black-eyed beans and coriander, and several glasses of fresh, icy-cold orange juice.

Pena-Palace-ceiling-and-chandelier---Lisbon-edWrought-iron-pavilion---Jardim-da-Estrela---Lisbon-ed
Pena Palace ceiling and chandelierWrought-iron pavilion – Jardim da Estrela

Once refueled, I continued downhill to the finishing point of the walk: Avenida metro station, on the magnificent, tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade.

The afternoon had now reached a humid and scorching 38 degrees, and I decided that the only haven that I could manage was an air-conditioned museum. This I found at the Museu da Cidade, which is housed in the former Campo Grande Palace in the far north of the city.

To quote the brochure: “The City Museum preserves important collections that demonstrate the historical evolution of the urban, social, symbolic and economic aspects of the Portuguese capital. Being a history museum, and having a multidisciplinary character, this institution possesses a wide and diverse collection, which is well-known for documentary, iconographic and artistic valour. Particularly in the realm of paintings, drawings, etching, cartographies, ceramics, glazed tile work, archeology, amongst others.”

Unfortunately all the displays were in Portuguese, but I was able to piece together some sense of the labels with my scant knowledge of Latin (from singing masses in a choir), and limited French. What was most interesting were the archeological items, and many renditions of pre-earthquake Lisbon.

After the tour, I was lucky to spot a “Rossio”-bound, air-conditioned bus, and a far more pleasant overland journey than the metro had been travelling to the Museum.

Once back in the city centre, I decided to explore the Avenida Palace Hotel, a beautiful old colonial building used by Martin Randall Travel (cultural tours), which I had decided against a few months before on account of the enormous cost.

Sao Vicente de Fora outside the walls

Sao Vicente de Fora outside the walls

It was in this hotel that I made another serendipitous discovery: a free evening piano recital in the gorgeous lounge, performed by young João Romeiras. As both he and I were early, we met and had a delightful conversation about music pedagogy – the subject of his Masters degree. He is a charming young man; dapperly dressed in beige chinos, navy blazer and tie, and beard neatly trimmed, this 24-year-old aspirant concert pianist told me of his extra income playing in hotels and teaching, and of his dream to expand his performing career beyond the borders of Portugal. Before I committed myself to mentioning performing entrées here in Stockholm, I decided to assess his playing first. And so he bashed his way through movements of Mozart and Beethoven sonatas (sadly over-pedaled, and lacking light and shade), on an appalling, out-of-tune Bechstein. But his Chopin Prelude (Op.28 No.4) was exquisite and sensitive, as was his Debussy: Suite Bergamasque and the Children’s Corner Suite. I wished him well after an hour’s wonderful entertainment, in a gracious old hotel lounge, with but 10 guests to appreciate his evident talent.

Supper was eventually found – after rejecting a number of café-restaurants as being too touristy – in an airless corner café in the Bairro Alto: dangerously fine-boned grilled sardines and a mixed salad. (Jess wisely chose steak egg and chips.) But dessert was a little delectable confectionery at a pasteleria downtown: línguas de vaca (cows’ tongues), sweet flat biscuits similar to the “cats’ tongues” in my Australian Womens’ Weekly French cookery book.

As our last morning was far too hot for the Lisbon Jardim Zoológico (Zoo), Jess and I took our cases to the last significant item on our Top 10 list: the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.This museum was opened in 1969, and houses the magnificent collection of a wealthy Armenian oil magnate (1869-1955) who had an eye for fine masterpieces. And so, before our departure from Lisbon Airport, we feasted out eyes on Egyptian, Classical and Mesopotamian art, Oriental Islamic, Far Eastern and European art, and French decorative arts. The latter was, for me, the dénouement: a collection of flamboyant Art Nouveau jewellry, glassware and ornaments by René Lalique (1860-1945). Each item – a brooch, hair comb, necklace or vase – is inlaid with semi-precious stones and covered in enamel or golf leaf. He also used the motifs characteristic of Art Nouveau: the dragonfly, peacock, curlicued plants and flowers, or the sensual female nude.

It was with sad reluctance that we tore ourselves away from this collection of incomparable treasures – and a beautiful old city – to begin our double-flight (with AF via Paris) back to Stockholm.

Apart from bottles of Portuguese wine and port, I still had a few gifts to buy, which I unwisely – as it turned out – thought I could procure more cheaply in Duty Free. There was no souvenir shop at the airport that I could find, only an expensive gift shop.

Sintra-Palácio Nacional

Sintra-Palácio Nacional

The moral of this story is: when you spot a fine trophy on your travels, buy it immediately – even if you think you can do better elsewhere. Surplus items can always be given away as gifts, and, if you buy the item that catches your fancy, that moment of wonder will be in your possession for ever.

The Supplication of Inez de Santos image sourced from : http://www.wikiart.org/en/vieira-portuense/s-plica-de-in-s-de-castro.

ARROZ DOCE  Sweet Portuguese rice dessertwww.food.com2 cups water
1 cup white rice
2 cups hot milk (full cream)
1 cup sugar
1 fresh lemon rind
Topping: cinnamon
(Serves 4-6)Bring water to a boil in medium saucepan. Add rice and cover, simmering for 20 minutes. Add milk, sugar and lemon rind, stirring constantly until thickened to oatmeal consistency, about 15-20 minutes. It will also thicken some while cooling. Pour into one large serving plate and remove lemon rind. Spread flat and allow to cool on wire rack. You can be decorative with cinnamon by pinching a bit between your fingers and place while your hand is no more than an inch away from the rice (criss-cross patterns are traditional), or you can just dust the entire top with the cinnamon. Serve at room temperature, but refrigerate uneaten portion.

Other useful sites:

YELLOW BUS / CARRISTUR: http://www.yellowbustours.com/en

CITYRAMA LISBON: http://www.cityrama.pt/en/

GRAY LINE: http://www.getyourguide.com/gray-line-portugal-s265/CITYRAMA/ CREATIVE DESTINATIONS-Listing/190/Lisbon-Cityrama-Tours-/151/LISBON-CITYRAMA-TOURS–VIATOR

LISBOA SIGHTSEEING: http://lisboasightseeing.com/

GOLISBON: (alternative tours): http://www.golisbon.com/tours/

LISBON CITY TOURS: http://www.lisboncitytours.com/

Other Top 10 Sites:

Viator’s top 10: http://www.viator.com/Lisbon/d538-top-ttd

LONELY PLANET TOP 10: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/portugal/lisbon/sights

YOU TUBE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVKM53-ukhE

ABOUT.COM

U.S. NEWS: http://travel.usnews.com/Lisbon_Portugal/Things_To_Do/

OASIS HOTEL’S TOP 10 TIPS: http://hostelsoasis.com/lisbon-hostels/oasis-lisbon/things-to-do-in-lisbon/10-things-to-do-in-lisbon/http://www.sawdays.co.uk/special-places/portugal/central-portugal/estremadura/micasaenlisboa

This I sourced through Alastair Sawdays Special Places to Stay:

Tripadvisor reviews04-Reviews-Micasaenlisboa-Lisbon_Estremadura.html

This article was first published in Showcook.com.


 

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