Archive for June, 2006

Noo Bai Café

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Lisbon’s miradouros or viewpoints are compulsory stops in the city. Noo Bai Cafe They offer the opportunity to admire the city from above, to rest, and in the case of Miradouro de Santa Catarina (just steps away from the districts of Bairro Alto and Chiado), a relatively new and trendy café. Although this is not my favorite miradouro (Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara and that of Senhora do Monte top my personal list), I’d have to say this one offers the only “real” café. Other miradouros such as that of Graça and Portas do Sol have small kiosks serving drinks and snacks, but Santa Catarina’s NooBai Café has a much more extensive menu (Santa Catarina also has a kiosk on the main miradouro terrace, while Noo Bai is on the right side facing the river, down the steps). A DJ spins an eclectic selection of tracks (it ranged from Brazilian sounds to 80s hits on the Sunday afternoon I visited) as you choose from a menu made up of salads, sandwiches, quiches, and fruit drinks. The juices and salads were good, and the view towards 25 de Abril Bridge are always great, but this turned out to be one of my worst experiences at a Lisbon café.

The music that could provide a chill-out ambience was way too loud on my first visit. So loud in fact, that I could barely hear my friend next to me talk. What could enhance the experience turned out to be a nuisance.

However, that was nothing compared to the unacceptable service I got on my second visit. I wasn’t satisfied with the sandwich I ordered because the bread was way too hard to be fresh. The waitress seemed to understand the complaint and offered to bring something else. When she returned with the new order, I was told I’d still have to pay for the sandwich I had returned — a sandwich I had only taken one single bite out of, and that I didn’t feel was edible. I’m used to the “customer is always right” policy and would expect that customer satisfaction would be a priority in such a talked-about new place. But when I asked for the manager and he later came with an aggressive attitude and even vulgar language (even saying that if I wanted fresher bread, to go to a bakery!!!!), I asked for the complaints book. In Portugal, every single business must have one, and it can not be refused to the customer. This manager refused to give the book. Not only does this cafe have terrible service but it also breaks the law. I was not going to complain about the days-old bread, but about his poor service and attitude. I had the right to call police for his refusal to provide the complaints book, but I chose instead to leave after letting him know how poor his service and attitude were– and even chose to pay for the sandwich I didn’t eat to show him that it was not about the money, but for the incredible lack of respect he showed to a customer.

I surely will never return to NooBai Café, as won’t my friends and family. It lost several customers over a sandwich costing just a couple of euros.

If you want to know a place that should be avoided in Lisbon, see the www.noobaicafe.com website.

Taxis at the airport

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

I haven’t been to Lisbon for 10 days now – normally I go every weekend but last week I had to travel first to Amsterdam and then to the Caribbean island of St. Maarten 😉

But the travelling made me think of airports in general and then of Lisbon airport in particular, and I thought I’d post a simple tip for travellers arriving there, one that I always used to use when having to take a taxi.

Whatever flight you arrive on, don’t go immediately outside the arrivals terminal to the taxi ranks. Instead, as soon as you’re through customs, take a right and then go up the stairs to the departures area and then left to go out the front doors. In front of the main doors you’ll see 2 or 3 lines of taxis.

In my experience, these taxis are the best ones to take because, unlike the ones outside the arrivals hall, they haven’t been waiting hours for unsuspecting foreigners and are less likely to rip you off. I’m not saying this is a common trait amongst Lisbon taxi drivers, but it does happen like it happens all around the world. And you simply have a better chance of it not happening if you take the taxis waiting outside the departure hall.

Sr. Peixe

Monday, June 5th, 2006

On Saturday I had dinner at the Senhor Peixe restaurant in the Parque das Nações area.

I’ve been to this restaurant before, which perhaps should have warned me away, because I already knew it was quite expensive but I’d forgotten just how much. The fish is always good here – the custom is to visit the fish counter and select your meal from the variety of fresh pieces on display – but be prepared to pay for it.

We arrived quite late, just before 10pm and most of the smaller fish had already been taken so we chose a large red imperador (red bream) for the 4 of us (2 adults & 2 kids), with a rosé wine from Alentejo to accompany.

We sat down at one of the long tables and waited. The restaurant wasn’t crowded and many people had chosen to eat in the terrace outside, so we had the long table to ourselves. The restaurants in Portugal have the custom of using these long tables for their seating arrangements, meaning that you’ll often find yourself seating directly next to another guest, almost as if you’re sharing the table with a stranger.

The starters soon arrived – bread & butter, olives, a small dish of fried fish and a plate of large prawns. We ate the olives and fish, but left the prawns which surely would have increased our final bill significantly! The wine had also arrived, and the main course soon afterwards. The fish was delicious and accompanied with a large dish of salad, a plate of chips (french fries) and also some boiled potatoes done in butter.

The final bill came to 111 euros! This may not seem too much for a party of 4, but none of us had a desert, my girlfriend and I having only coffee, and although the kids did order 2 drinks each I still thought it was very expensive. The fish weighed in at 1.75kg and we were charged 80 euros just for that. The food was good, but I’m afraid I won’t be going back to Sr. Peixe again in the near future!

Sesimbra

Monday, June 5th, 2006

I spent this Saturday on the beach in Sesimbra. It’s a town I go to quite frequently in the summer because my girlfriend and I really like the place. Two years ago, I wrote here about a longer stay over Easter.

We left at around 1pm and drove south across the Setúbal peninsula. Sesimbra lies on the south coast of this peninsula, to the west of the Serra de Arrábida. It’s a 30 – 45 minute drive from Lisbon, and once again gave me an insight into the driving habits of the Portuguese, or one habit in particular.

You’ve pulled into the outside lane to overtake a slower moving car on the inside. Suddenly, there’s another car right on your tail, as close as possible to your rear bumper and impatiently indicating they want to overtake you, even before you’ve managed to get past the other car. I’m quite an experienced driver and this doesn’t make me nervous, but I’m amazed at how impatient these drivers are. After seeing them on the Vasco da Gama bridge, driving bumper to bumber at 140km/h, it comes as no surprise to learn that in Portugal 4 times as many people are killed in their cars as in the UK, for example.

But prudent and patient driving may also be seen on Portugal’s roads, and after an uneventful drive, we arrived in Sesimbra. We always head straight for the beach area and then turn to the right, driving along the sea front past the different restaurants towards the Hotel do Mar. In front of the hotel there are 2 or 3 small carparks, where it is almost always possible to park. You sometimes have to wait a few minutes until another car leaves, but on this particular occasion we parked immediately.

We headed off to the beach, planted our sunshade on the clean, white sands and tested the waters. Sesimbra is great for kids: the natural bay has a wide beach, the sea is calm and the water stays shallow close to the shore. I was expecting the water to be much colder, but on this early June weekend it was warm enough to swim for a good while without getting too cold. We had brought sandwiches this time, so we didn’t visit any of the varied sea-front restaurants, but there’s plenty to choose from here for those staying for lunch or dinner. The Lisboetans flock to this town at weekends but even so, it doesn’t get over crowded. A good day was had by all!

Partying or Chilling Out in Lisbon

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

Lisbon has become a popular destination for young travelers, drawn to its nightlife and events. Major annual music festivals take place every May to September, hosting major bands that attract local young crowds and visitors from around Europe. Perhaps the most well-known festival is Rock in Rio-Lisboa, a huge event that first took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but there are more, such as Super Bock Super Rock, Olá Love 2 Dance, among others.

But throughout the year, the biggest attraction is the city’s vibrant nightlife. Having grown up in New York, I was used to having a variety of places to chill out at, or to party the night away, so when I moved to Lisbon in my early 20s, I was curious how it would compare to the city that never sleeps. What I discovered was that yes, Lisbon also doesn’t sleep, especially on weekends. Starting with a late dinner, people then move up and down the cobbled streets of the funky Bairro Alto quarter, drink in hand, bar-hopping from eccentric-and-old to sleek-and-new bars. The less edgy or bohemian crowd moves down the river to a dock area simply known as Docas (its official name is Doca de Santo Amaro), filled with more restaurants, cosmopolitan bars and clubs. For visitors to the city, this is where they’re most likely to hear the sounds that are also popular back home. When it’s about 4AM, the party seems to die down in Bairro Alto and Docas, when most bars close their doors, but the night is not over. That is when most start queuing up by the clubs, mostly in the industrial areas by the river, in the district of Santos.

The most popular club of all is the much-talked-about Lux. European magazines have hailed it as Europe’s most stylish club, and part-owned by actor John Malkovitch, it is therefore a curiosity for those who visit Lisbon.
I first went to Lux about two years ago, and was able to confirm that it is in fact something to rival any club in the world. In fact, also attracting major international DJs, it tops most New York clubs: Here there are no sleazy dancers, no overdrinking and over-the-top behavior (although this being Europe, there is oversmoking), and the place is decorated almost as a gallery of modern design. People go to see and be seen, to be with friends and perhaps drink a little, and above all, to chill out (there is a wonderful, breezy terrace with views of the moon reflecting on the river and of the flood-lit monuments of Alfama).
Obviously such a place has to have a tough door policy. I was lucky to go with regular customers, so I had no problem getting in, but I saw three young British guys being asked for 180 euros when the cover charge is only 12! That’s their way of turning you away “nicely.” Maybe it’s already too crowded inside, maybe they don’t like your style, maybe they’re trying to keep an even male-to-female ratio… If that happens, don’t bother trying again. If you get in, consider yourself lucky and enjoy the rest of the night.

Over time, I have checked out other places in the city, and it seems that I came to Lisbon at just the right time. In the past two years or so, there has been a number of nice places opening up around the city. One of my new favorites is Cinco Lounge. It is a little hard to find, hidden in a residential zone (Principe Real), but you won’t find a better and bigger selection of cocktails in the city. When I went there recently on a weekday, it was rather empty (only two couples along with myself and two of my friends), so it didn’t really score points for ambience, but perhaps things are different on weekends or as it also becomes better known. Still, the chill-out music is just what you’re looking for at the end of the day, when you just want to chat away the night with your friends and a good drink. I highly recommend it.
You can find out more about the places mentioned above in our nightlife section.