Archive for August, 2008

A Streetcar Named Electrico

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Tram 25 in Lisbon
Exactly 107 years ago today, Lisbon saw its first tram, previously known as a “streetcar” and locally called “electrico” go up and down its hilly streets.

They still do that today, although with the arrival of the subway system in the mid-20th century and the increased use of the automobile, many of the routes were discontinued leaving only four still operating at the moment.

In 2007 the city’s trams transported more than 16,4 million passengers. Of those the majority were locals, but tourists also made up a large number of riders.

These small machines are not the fastest way to get around in the city, but they don’t pollute, have a charming historical feel, and are not as noisy as the car. How fast they reach their final destination depends on whether or not they find their tracks free of obstacles, usually meaning no double-parked cars or a delivery truck blocking the way. When they do come across them, with no way of going around the tracks, passengers simply have to wait a minute or two, or five or more, until that is out of the way.

So why take the tram? Because in the steepest neighborhoods like in Alfama, with streets too narrow for buses, the tram is the only option. And on a bus you can’t stick your head out of the window and snap a picture of a tiled wall, of a colorful balcony and its potted plants, of a picturesque street down the hill, or of the eye-catching façade of a monument.

For all those reasons riding a tram in Lisbon is a must, especially tram 28 that goes through most of the city’s oldest quarters. To reach the city’s main sights in Belem, you have to take tram 15. Because of that, the 15 is the route with the biggest number of passengers, but that being a modern “super-tram” with closed windows, the tourist sightseeing needs are left to charming old 28.

The two other routes are numbers 12 and 25. Number 25 goes from Baixa, through Santos and Lapa, ending at Prazeres which is also the 28’s final stop. The 25 is your tram if you want to visit the Ancient Art Museum. As for number 12, it’s a circular journey that starts in Figueira Square, goes up the hill towards Portas do Sol Viewpoint, down to the cathedral, and back to Figueira Square.

In addition to these trams, the top of Lisbon’s hills can be reached with the help of four historic funiculars. Lavra is the oldest one (the world’s first and powered by water in 1884), then there’s Gloria that goes up from Restauradores Square to São Pedro de Alcantara Viewpoint in Bairro Alto, Bica by Chiado and Bairro Alto is the most photographed of all, and the Eiffel Tower-looking Santa Justa in the center of the city.

Ride one of these trams or funiculars and you’ll know why in Lisbon, getting there really is half the fun.

Art Hanging Out in Lisbon

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Art hanging out in Lisbon's Alfama
The laundry hanging out to dry from the balconies is one of Lisbon’s most emblematic images. You walk around Alfama and other historical residential districts and you’ll see bed sheets, towels, t-shirts, and even underwear drying in the sun, in the good old Mediterranean way.

And if you’re in Lisbon until the end of October you’ll also notice some other colorful pieces of fabric that could very well be a painting in a museum. That is in fact not too far from the truth, as these originally were paintings and drawings by Dutch artist Guus Slauerhoff.

Those banners make up an installation called “Facets of Life,” consisting of 85 paintings reproduced on transparent cloth. Their images and display were inspired by Fado music and Alfama’s floating laundry.

The artist aims to connect the history of Fado in Alfama to the contemporary life in the neighborhood, where the music genre still has a huge presence in daily life. The banners measuring 240x150cm hang from many of the neighborhood’s oldest houses, transmitting the feeling of melancholy or nostalgia that both the music and Alfama often bring.

Slauerhoff fell in love with Fado in 2003 when he first heard a Cristina Branco CD. The songs of that Fado singer fascinated him enough to visit Lisbon in 2004, when he created an exhibition called “The Soul of Fado” for the Fado Museum.

This is his second project in Lisbon and looks like it won’t be his last.

A Horrifying Week in Lisbon

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

MOTELx, Lisbon Horror Film Festival
Lisbon is getting ready for its most horrifying week this year. From the 3rd to the 7th of September, MOTELx – Lisbon International Horror Film Festival will bring the scariest images created around the world to the screens of São Jorge Cinema right in the center of the city in Avenida da Liberdade.

It’s the second annual edition of the non-competitive film festival dedicated to the horror genre, presenting both big budget and small independent productions. In between there are also some experimental works, all with the intent to stimulate the production of these types of films and make creators and audiences interact.

The selected films may be psychological thrillers, slasher movies, ghost stories, or pure gore coming from the UK, USA, Spain, Norway, Germany, France, Brazil, and Afghanistan. There will also be short features made in Portugal, and documentaries will tell the stories behind the stories. For the complete schedule of screenings, consult the event’s website: www.motelx.org. Tickets cost €3 for those under 25 and €3.50 for everyone else.

This will be the first of a number of festivals coming up in the fall in Lisbon, of which GoLisbon will tell you about throughout the upcoming weeks.

Lisbon Becomes the World’s Most Magical City

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Rua Augusta, downtown Lisbon

This will be a magical week in Lisbon. From now until Sunday the city’s main streets and squares will be filled with almost two dozen masters of illusion from several countries including Portugal, England, Sweden, USA, Spain, Australia, and Argentina. They’ll be making a total of 173 scheduled performances of magic tricks to stimulate the minds and imagination of both locals and tourists passing by.

It’s the third annual edition of the Lisboa Magica – Street Magic World Festival, which last year stopped 30,000 unsuspecting people in Camões Square, Rua Augusta, Figueira Square, Restauradores, Rossio, and Comercio Square.

Don’t expect to see a landmark disappear a la David Copperfield, but be prepared to be surprised by the tricks these magicians have up their sleeves. If you’re in town, be sure to be on the streets of Baixa and Chiado starting at noon on weekdays, and between 10AM and 10PM during the weekend and get ready for some “how they do that?” moments with the colors of Lisbon as the backdrop.

It’s great to live in Lisbon!

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Lisbon skyline
Listen to a Lisbon resident talk about his city and you’ll likely hear him list all that is wrong with it. He’ll complain about traffic, lack of parking space, too much urban decay, and city hall’s seemingly lackluster efforts to better the city. But if that same person spends some time elsewhere, especially at another major European city, you’ll find him singing a different tune upon his return. He’ll still point out what needs to be improved in his city, but he’ll also recognize that most of Lisbon’s problems are no different or any worse than in other cities, and that it’s in fact a great place in which to live.That conclusion was backed up by two Mercer group surveys recently which measured personal safety and quality of life around the world. It found that of the hundreds of cities in the world, Lisbon ranked 44th in quality of life. The Portuguese capital went up from 47th in the previous survey, and is along with Milan one of the cities that most bettered its standing. 

Of the world’s 10 best cities to live, 7 are in Europe, with the remaining 3 found in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Topping the list was Zurich, followed by Vienna, Geneva, Vancouver, Auckland, Dusseldorf, Munich, Frankfurt, Bern, and Sydney.

In Europe, other cities ranking better than Lisbon include Paris (at number 32), London (38), and Madrid just one spot above the Portuguese capital at number 43. Lisbon ranked higher than other cities such as Rome and Prague. It also did better than several American cities including New York and tied with Chicago which also ranked 44.
Unsurprisingly, at the very bottom of the list is Baghdad, and the remaining of the bottom 10 are all cities in Africa.

One factor that does not seem to have been part of the study is climate. Let’s not underestimate the fact that living without thermometers reaching the freezing point or not having to worry about snow storms, and with the Mediterranean summer heat cooled off by the breeze of the Atlantic, make Lisbon one of the world’s most valuable real estate. Live in Lisbon after living elsewhere and you’ll want to place the city somewhere in the top 5 in the world.

Lisbon’s Chiado Rises from the Ashes

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Chiado, Lisbon

It was 20 years ago today. The Chiado district, the very center and cultural heart of Lisbon went down in flames. It started with a small fire in a department store at 4:30 in the morning of August 25th 1988, and thirty minutes later the entire building and those surrounding it were burning down.In total 18 buildings in three of the neighborhood’s main streets were destroyed, and it took 300 fire trucks and 1,680 firemen to prevent any further destruction. Two people died, 73 were injured, and about 2000 were left unemployed. The Armazéns do Chiado department store (now reopened as a shopping mall) only had its façade left standing, and gone forever were the Grandella department store (today housing a H&M branch) and the legendary Café Ferrari (the historical Café A Brasileira remained unaffected).

A Brasileira is one of the few establishments to have survived and is still going strong today, as is the landmark Bertrand bookshop, in existence on this spot since 1732. After the reconstruction of the neighborhood by renowned architect Alvaro Siza Vieira, international names such as Cartier, Hermés, Hugo Boss, Nespresso, Moooi, and Kiehl’s have moved in, but older residents will tell you shopping here was much nicer during the pre-inferno days. It had unique specialty shops and was still free of some retailers that you’ll find here today but that you’ll also see at a shopping mall near you (Foot Locker, Zara, Levi’s, etc.). Despite criticisms and nostalgia, not one can argue that this reborn Chiado is also a much more cosmopolitan and democratic space today. Nowhere else in the city will you find a higher concentration (or higher quality) of shops, cafes, and theaters making it a mandatory stop in the city.

Two decades later and after much renovation, the rebirth (and a great deal of gentrification) is still underway. Two major boutique hotels opened in the last few years, contemporary-design cafes and restaurants attract crowds hungry for something new, and major international brands are on waiting lists for retail space. Siza Vieira’s plans are still only 99% complete, and much rehabilitation will go on for years to come (extending to the adjacent Baixa district).

One thing the fire could not destroy was Chiado’s cultural, literary, and historical soul, and no matter how many changes and facelifts it is given, the statues of its poets, the café tables on the cobbled pavements, and the shopping bags in the hands of people of all ages and styles will always make this the beloved heart of Lisbon.

Vienna in Lisbon

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Kaffeehaus, Austrian cafe in Lisbon

First there was Pois, now there is Kaffeehaus. GoLisbon recommended the Austrian-owned Pois Café when it opened and it’s in fact become one of Lisbon’s favorite daytime hangouts. Not only because of its original gastronomic creations, but for its cosy, comfortable space made up of sofas and grandma-style furniture.A couple of months ago two other young Viennese decided to move to Lisbon and open their own café. Unlike Pois, Kaffeehaus has a very contemporary décor, with Vienna present in the posters on the walls advertising plays, films, concerts, and other events in the Austrian capital. But perhaps to make it even more authentically Austrian, the menu options are listed in German, with Portuguese translation below them. Daily specials not found on the menu are written in chalk on the cabinet behind the counter.

Just like Pois, it also offers international periodicals, although the couches and personal living-room-style furniture at Pois is more inviting for prolonged reading. Still, Kaffeehaus provides additional reading light through the overhead lamps that can be extended to as close to your magazine as possible.

One major difference between the two cafes is that Pois does not serve dinner. It closes at 8PM while Kaffeehaus remains open until midnight, and on Friday and Saturdays it transforms itself into a night time bar open until 2AM.

Of the two cafes, the weekend brunch is a better value and more complete at Pois. For meals, they’re tied in originality and flavorful dishes (the obligatory sachertorte is good at both). In ambience, Pois is the winner. In service, the prize goes to Kaffeehaus — there’s always a smile and the possibility of some rapport with the staff if you return often, unlike at Pois where it seems to have a different waitress each time we go. In location, it’s a tossup — Kaffeehaus is more accessible and central in the Chiado quarter, but Pois is a great excuse to go to Alfama (and its street next to the cathedral is a charming corner of Lisbon).

What this all means is that no matter which Vienna-in-Lisbon cafe you choose, you’ll likely leave with an experience to recommend to others — the feeling of experiencing two European capitals for the price of one.

For more cafes in Lisbon, see GoLisbon’s cafes page.

Europe’s first 6-star hotel opening in Portugal

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Europe's first 6-star hotel in Portugal As world travelers become more demanding and sophisticated, the regular 5-star treatment is just not enough. For a more exclusive luxurious experience, those who can afford it have been wanting something extra. The result was the creation of a 6-star service. But you’ll have to go to super-rich Dubai for that because there are still none in Europe — until next year.In 2009 Portugal will be home to Europe’s first 6-star accommodation, with the opening of Palacio da Quinta in Algarve. It will be located in Quinta do Lago, already an exclusive destination at the moment. It seems millionaire coach José Mourinho is one of the property’s investors, so you know you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the upcoming months.

Palacio da Quinta will not simply have hotels rooms. It will offer penthouses and apartments (from one to four-bedrooms) surrounded by 17 acres of subtropical gardens. For meals, guests do not have to worry about waking up for breakfast in time or having their choices limited by what’s available on the menu for dinner because they’ll have a private chef.

For other services they won’t need to call reception. Their butler will take care of whatever they need. Need to go somewhere? Their chauffeur will take them there. Need to go somewhere a little farther? Their private jet or yacht is waiting for them.

Of course you’re wondering if you can be one of them and how much it will all cost you. It will be a mere $1.9 million for a one-bedroom suite, all the way up to $5 million for the 4-bedroom penthouse. But don’t worry, if $1.9 million is all you can afford, everyone still gets a terrace spa bath with views of the garden, pools, and lakes included.

Now that you know what you’re paying for, you’re dying to know what it will all look like. Picture marble floors, an intelligent home system, and designer touches.

And since Portugal’s Algarve is one of the world’s top golf destinations, there are special discounts for the famous greens in Southern Portugal. That’s just to guarantee that you don’t miss all that Algarve has to offer.

After all, Portugal’s sunny province promotes itself in the tourism world with an extra “L” as “Allgarve,” reminding visitors that it’s got it all, not just beach and sun. And this new 6-star luxury leaves no room for doubt about that…

Let the games begin!

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Football/soccer in Lisbon Portuguese futebol (football or soccer, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on) has received much more attention outside of Portugal since the emergence of international Portuguese stars Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, famous coach José Mourinho, and with the country hosting the Euro 2004 championships. The national team has also been talked about to a greater extent during the World Cups and European Championships of this decade due to its unprecedented high hopes and subsequent disappointments.But within Portuguese borders, things are somewhat different. With FC Porto winning almost every year so far in the new millennium, the premier league has gotten a little boring. The only excitement comes from off the field, with the never ending soap opera of corruption in the clubs and their presidents.

As another season begins this weekend however, we can only hope for a more exciting year. Tired of those corruption scandals, it’s time to concentrate on the game. With Benfica getting a new coach (Enrique Sanchez Flores, formerly of Spain’s Valencia), its fans hope for re-energized team spirit and success in taking the title away from FC Porto, which in turn hopes to hold on to its winning streak. That leaves the only other team with chances of winning, Sporting Lisbon, which completes the big three of the league — will this finally be the year for Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo’s first club?

If you love the beautiful game and want to see Portuguese futebol in person when you’re in Lisbon, check out the matches taking place in Benfica’s Stadium of Light or Sporting’s Alvalade XXI. How do you get tickets for that? We can help you with that. Click here.

Lesbian, Portugal

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Lesboa, lesbian party in Lisbon

They don’t rhyme but they could very well be misspellings of each other. “Lisbon” and “Lesbian” are not etymologically related either, but you will start seeing those two words used in the same sentence more frequently from now on. That’s because Lisbon is discretely becoming a lesbian-friendly city. It’s not exactly a liberal place like Amsterdam, it’s not a hot lesbian destination like the island of Lesbos, and it’s still rather homophobic when compared to other big capitals.

But it’s homophobic in a strangely tolerant way.Portugal’s attitude towards same-sex couples can be described in an oxymoronic way –- homophobically tolerant as in “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That is, they seem to accept the existence of homosexual couples (there have never been anti-gay marches or major anti-gay movements in the country), as long as they are not confronted with them. Because when confronted, they’ll just have to comply with their good-old Catholic upbringing and manifest their disapproval.  

So if you’re a lesbian couple coming to Lisbon, you won’t see many women holding hands. You will end up thinking all Portuguese girls who like other girls just get married and live unhappily ever after. While that’s true to a great extent, it seems it won’t be so for much longer. A young television host recently came out as a lesbian in the country’s most respected newspaper, and the reaction was no reaction. Portugal’s “homophobic tolerance” allowed her to proceed with work and life as usual. No one said “good for you,” no one reacted with a “so what?,” but no one responded negatively either. It was like it never happened.

The country only reacted a couple of years ago when it was directly confronted with the issue. A lesbian couple challenged the courts to allow them to get married. The current legislation doesn’t allow it, so they were denied their wish. But the country was forced to talk about it and polls showed the majority of Portuguese oppose such unions.

But as Portugal faces the issue less directly maybe minds and tolerance levels will be expanded. Take the Lesboa parties as an example. They take place two or three times a year, and this October there will be another edition with female DJs providing the dance music to accompany a night of drinking and fun socializing for people of all ages and sexual orientations. It will be the 2nd anniversary celebration and includes major sponsorship from myspace.com and one of the country’s major radio stations.

If you want to be in Lisbon for that, stay at one of the gay or gay-friendly hotels in the city. You’ll mostly find men there, but if you want to avoid stares during a public display of affection at the reception or breakfast room, those are the places to book. The GoLisbon gay & lesbian page lists the accommodation you should consider.

For an all-girls night out, do as everyone else does, and go to Bairro Alto. Your first stop should be Primas (“female cousins”). The name brings to mind those closet days when two inseparable girls, who perhaps even lived together, identified themselves as “cousins” to the more close-minded members of society. At this bar however, the closet has no door to be closed, and girls freely display their devotion to other girls as they choose a tune on the jukebox, play pool, or grab a drink.

Then it’s time to move to Purex not far away. The house drink is the Cosmopolitan, and although the space is not very big, the area with no seats is used for spontaneous dancing. It has a number of straight and gay male clients, but this is where the lesbian locals gather.

Then move on to Chueca. No, not the gayborhood in Madrid. You’re staying in Bairro Alto. Chueca is a lesbian-owned bar with a stylish contemporary décor where you can sit with a drink or stand by the door along with everyone else.

It’s now time to go clubbing. You can go to the all-sexual-orientations-friendly Fragil or to the lesbian club Maria Lisboa. It’s pretty spacious with a hot décor, and a variety of sounds that range from 80s pop to house.

When you wake up mid-morning or even in the afternoon on the following day, have a meal at Les Mauvais Garçons, a small romantic gay café in Bairro Alto. It serves light meals in a space decorated with old tables and couches, and with black and white photos of Paris on the walls.

End your Lisbon visit with a night at a Fado restaurant. It’s your way of experiencing a little of the local culture, while also sensing that these fado divas are no ordinary women –- in between their melancholic laments, there is a certain strong masculine side that, well, makes it look like Lisbon does blend the traits of all genders and sexual orientations. It makes you think that Lisbon could very well have a very strong lesbian side. And it’s not just in the name.

Lesboa, lesbian party in Lisbon