Archive for November, 2008

The World’s Oldest Person

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Lisbon in the 1930s

Mrs. Edna Parker, the 115 year-old American woman who was recognized as the world’s oldest person has died.  According to her family, the secret to her longevity was an active life free of alcohol and cigarettes.  I’d also add the very likely probability of some very good genes, although she did outlive her own two sons. Maybe the fresh air in the Indiana farm where she lived until she was 100 also had something to do with it. She was also a highly educated woman, working as a teacher until 1913 when she decided to dedicate her life to her farm.

But this leaves a Portuguese woman born in 1893 as the new oldest person in the world. Also 115 years young at the moment, she’s seen Portugal ruled by kings (until 1910 when the country went from monarchy to republic), by a dictator (for decades in the 20th century), and by prime-ministers democratically elected by the people in a country that’s also a member of the European Union. She was born at a time when locomotives competed with horse-drawn carriages as the most efficient means of transport, witnessed the first streetcars or trams arriving in Lisbon (pictuted above), the emergence of the automobile, the invention of the telephone, radio and television, and saw the first airplanes in the air. The world has suffered through world wars, man has landed on the moon, and the entire world is now connected through computers and wireless gadgets. Reviewing these women’s lives really makes you realize how much the world has evolved in just over a century, and makes you wonder what it will be like when a baby born today turns 115 years old…

For an overview of the history of Portugal click here.

Portugal’s Latest Michelin Stars

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Lisbon's Eleven Restaurant

The influential Michelin Restaurants Guide has just announced its star awards for Portugal. Two new entries this year are for restaurants in Amarante (“Casa da Calçada”) and Madeira (“Il Gallo d’Oro” in the Cliff Bay Hotel), while a previously awarded restaurant, Porto de Santa Maria in Cascais has had its star taken away after 25 years. But that seaside town of Cascais just outside Lisbon still has a Michelin star shining at Fortaleza do Guincho.

Lisbon’s Eleven kept its star, while Portugal’s best restaurant according to that guide is Villa Joya in Algarve with two stars. In fact, Michelin’s favorite Portuguese restaurants are mostly found in that southern tip of the country, with other winners São Gabriel, Henrique Leis e Amadeus all located in Almacil. Also recognized was Coimbra’s “Arcadas da Capela” inside Quinta das Lagrimas Hotel with one star.

Trying hard to make it to this exclusive list next year: Lisbon’s Tavares.

5 Things to Thank Lisbon for

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Loving Lisbon

Our American readers are celebrating their Thanksgiving holiday today, and if I was still living in the United States, I’d probably also be sitting at a table with a turkey in front of me for most of the day today. It wouldn’t matter that I don’t eat turkey — tradition is tradition. And because there’s no harm in following most traditions, I will now list the things for which I am thankful for here in Lisbon. Thank you Lisbon for:

Thank you for NOT being thankful
A thanksgiving holiday would never work here in Lisbon. Its people are never thankful for anything. Sure they live in a paradise of a city, where the sun shines for 300 days out of the year and thermometers rarely go below 10 degrees (50F) during the day, in a peaceful city under no terrorism threat, with one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, providing a beautiful scenery to be admired over a drink at a café or restaurant, and where everything moves at a snail’s/human pace. But since nothing is perfect, the people of Lisbon live their lives complaining about everything. They’d complain about many of those same things in any other city, but good for you, Lisbon — there’s always room for improvement. And OK, the city does need a lot of improvement.  So Lisbon, you’re almost perfect but continue to demand more. Demand that people appreciate you more.

Thank you for simply being Lisbon
Lisbon is like an old lady who is proud of her wrinkles and refuses any cosmetic surgery or Botox. Lisbon looks old, but she knows she’s lived quite a long, spectacular life and nothing shows that better than those wrinkles. Lisbon is comfortable with who she is and she knows she’s beautiful no matter what, especially to those who get to know her and look beyond the surface. Lisbon looks like she’s falling apart, yet she keeps a dignified air. She’s got a fantastic life story to tell. Thank you for not being an excessively sanitized city sacrificing your soul for a façade or financial gain. Thank you for not being Singapore, Zurich, or Vienna. Thank you for the uneven cobblestone pavements, the dogs you allow to walk freely through the streets, the amusing graffiti you don’t remove from your walls, the cracked tile panels and peeling colors of your façades… It is easy to criticize you for that.  Those things could be improved or changed. But even if they’re not, it just makes you even more authentic, and whoever doesn’t appreciate that is not worthy of you. You’ve earned our respect no matter what you look like.

Thank you for the Tagus
The Seine, the Thames, or any other European city’s river can not compete with the Tagus. The Tagus is often confused for the Atlantic by many tourists. Their ignorance is completely understandble since it can look more like the ocean than a river when observed from the top of one of Lisbon’s hills. And even those who know that it is a river, also know that the Atlantic is in fact just around the corner, as are the sandy beaches that stand next to it. Then there are the waterfront cafes and restaurants where you sit and begin to understand why this river inspired the 15th century explorers to go on exploring the then-unknown seas.

Thank you for your characters
You ride the subway a couple of times and you begin to anticipate the moment when the blind beggar walks through asking/yelling for some change with every breath out of his lungs. You walk down Rua Augusta and you feel an absence when the gypsy boy is not sitting there with his accordion and the tiny Chihuahua on his shoulder holding a tiny bucket in its mouth. You’ve seen him a million times before, but you can’t help it but look again at the tumor-filled man standing in Rossio as if out of a freak show. You love it when the old man who stands almost every night in Saldanha waving at everyone passing by, also waves at you. You’re very open-minded, but you can’t help it but wonder how in hell did that goth, that punk, that freak or fashion victim of a kid thought s/he looked good wearing that when s/he looked at him/herself in the mirror, as s/he walks past you in Bairro Alto or Chiado. You walk up to Bairro Alto at night to take part in its weekend night street invasion, and can hear the short man singing Fado and playing a guitar almost as big as he is in Rua Garrett from miles away. Then there are the old ladies challenging their legs up the city’s hills, the old men who all look the same arguing about soccer and politics they can barely understand but always have an opinion about, the gypsies who approch you for “chocolate” as code for hashish when in reality it’s not even drugs at all… Thank you Lisbon for allowing these people to be part of our everyday lives. They add nothing to our lives, but this way we’re reassured that you’re never boring.

Thank you for not being touristy
Thank you for not being a tourists’ theme park like Prague or Venice. Thank you for not having an entire street or square bought by capitalism à la New York’s/Disney’s Times Square, or London’s Picadilly Circus, or all of Las Vegas. Thank you for limiting neon signs to Cais do Sodré’s whore houses. Thank you for not having a cheesy souvenir shop at every turn. Thank you for not having “Murder Mystery Dinners” or a “serial killer tour.” Thank you for making visitors come to see you and nothing else.

Been There? Eaten That? – Reviews of Lisbon Restaurants

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Lisbon RestaurantGoLisbon has for last few years followed the openings and closings of new and old restaurants in Lisbon. We’ve told you about the most outstanding ones and offer you an extensive list with those you should consider trying during your visit to the city. Those lists are divided by cuisine, so whether you’re in the mood for some Italian pastas or pizzas, wish to sample the local gastronomy at a Portuguese restaurant, feel like experiencing some creative international fusion cuisine, or are looking for vegetarian restaurants for some meat-free dishes, we tell you where to go.

GoLisbon will continue to tell you about all the places worth considering in Lisbon, but we now also want to hear from you. Have you had a memorable experience at a restaurant in Lisbon? How about such a bad time that others need to be warned about? Visit GoLisbon’s restaurants guide and click on the name of the restaurant you’d like to comment on. A box has been placed at the bottom of each restaurant’s page just for you to contribute to our mission of providing the most complete information about Lisbon. Help us help those visiting Lisbon by clicking here.

Moor Than Meets the Eye: Lisbon’s “Casa do Alentejo”

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Casa do Alentejo, LisbonRua das Portas de Santo Antão is a pedestrian street usually filled with tourists. It’s home to two famous restaurants listed in almost every guidebook (Gambrinus for seafood; Bonjardim for spicy chicken), and it’s parallel to Restauradores Square which everyone passes by at least once during their Lisbon visit. There are so many distractions on that street (particularly waiters standing outside their restaurants approaching you to convince you to sit and have a meal), that you completely overlook the building at number 58. That’s quite understandable, though. There’s no way of knowing what’s behind that door unless someone tells you about it in advance.

Once you enter and go up the steps you’ll find a peculiar Moorish courtyard as if transplanted from Morocco or Spain’s Andalusia.  Go up another flight of steps and you arrive in a hallway completely covered in tiles and antique furnishings. It originally was the 17th century residence of an aristocratic family, and in the early 20th century was turned into a casino. In 1932 it became a club for those from the province of Alentejo to meet, as it continues to be today.  A restaurant has been added and is open to everyone.

Casa do Alentejo Restaurant occupies two beautiful rooms decorated with tile panels and serves regional specialties. The atmosphere is quite informal but also romantic due to the setting, and is a good choice for families. You can also rent a big hall for private events, which includes a stage and beautiful Louis XVI-style mirrors and ornaments.

Back by the Moorish courtyard is a shop selling Alentejo specialties, including its famous wines and olive oil.

The Tacky Tourist’s Guide to Lisbon

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Tacky Tourists' Guide to LisbonIf you’ve now packed your sandals and the white socks to wear with them during your trip to Lisbon, and are now planning what to see and do in the city, this is the guide for you. After all, prides itself in the fact that it’s a guide for everyone, for all kinds of people coming to Lisbon. Here’s a suggested itinerary:

When you arrive at the airport, take a taxi to your hotel. Don’t worry about the language barrier. Just say the name of the hotel and thank the driver with a “gracias.” It’s Spanish, but he’ll understand. After all, Spain is right next door.

It’s now probably past your hotel’s breakfast time, so do the next best thing — go to Starbucks in the Belem district. As GoLisbon has already told you here, that great American franchise is opening in that neighborhood soon.
After your muffin and frappuccino, hop on an open-top tour bus. After all, you’re already in the Belem district and that’s where most of the city’s sights are. You get to see the entire city from a moving vehicle and still get to take pictures! The city looks particularly beautiful by the water. It’s not the Mediterranean, by the way. It’s a river called Tagus or Tejo in Portuguese (the local language which looks like Spanish but sounds like Russian). Across the river is not Morocco or even the island of Madeira as many tourists in the past have guessed. It’s a suburb called Almada. No use going there unless you want to take a look at the Cristo Rei. It’s a replica of that big statue in Rio de Janeiro. It’s kinda cool because it’s big and made out of concrete. Plus, no need to go to Rio after that! It really saves you some money.

You’ve now seen the entire city on that bus tour, and it’s time for lunch. Did you know Lisbon has one of Europe’s biggest shopping malls? When it opened in 1998 it was the largest in Iberia. Iberia is the peninsula that makes up Spain and Portugal. It’s in Southern Europe. In case you arrived on a cruise, that’s where you are right now. Anyway, Colombo is the name of the shopping mall. It’s big. It has such a huge food court! You can choose from McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and so many other fast food places that are familiar to you! Yes, Lisbon’s got them too!
Take the opportunity to shop around the mall. It’s big. So many shops! There are even two Zaras! Try finding that at many other malls across Europe! To recover from all the shopping, it’s time to rest a while. Take the subway and head back to the center of the city. Take advantage of Happy Hour at one of the Irish pubs in Cais do Sodré. There are two of them within walking distance from each other! The drinks are cheap and you can even get Guinness! Yes, Lisbon’s got it too!

OK, back to the subway. You’ve probably read that most restaurants in Lisbon are in Bairro Alto. Don’t bother. That place has so much graffiti, it’s scary. Besides, you heard that Portuguese food is all made with cod and who likes that stinky bacalao? Head to Parque das Nações. It’s so modern! It’s got so many tall buildings. And restaurants too. There’s an entire row of international restaurants, and a couple of them even offer all-you-can-eat buffets! Man, you can really stuff yourself for less than 15 euros! If you don’t go for the buffets, you can still be sure to have a fulfilling meal because many of these are chain restaurants and serve big portions like you get back at home. Obviously you can’t go straight to bed in a full stomach, so walk around the neighborhood. Parque das Nações really has many cool modern buildings! And did we mention they’re tall?! Best of all, there’s a casino! It’s so awesome!  It has the roulette, and you can even play poker or blackjack! Best of all is playing the slot machines. Just like in Vegas! Of course you should not get too carried away and spend all your money there. Once you’ve seen the free acrobatics show at the rotating bar of the casino (it’s amazing, filled with flashing lights during the show, and the music is really pumping), head back to the subway and get off at Restauradores in the center of the city. That’s where you’ll find Lisbon’s very own Hard Rock Café. How cool is that?! There’s a car (a real one!) hanging from the ceiling! Have your drinks as you watch the pop videos on the screens, listen to the loud music, and mingle with other tourists. Who knows? — maybe you’ll even bump into someone from back home. That would be one hell of a coincidence, wouldn’t it? Don’t leave without passing by the gift shop. Get your very own “Hard Rock Café – Lisbon” key chain or shot glass! After all, getting such a cool souvenir is the best way to end your stay in Lisbon. Isn’t it such a cool city?! Tell your friends.

Lisbon’s Most Famous Cafe is 103 Years Old Today

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Cafe A Brasileira in Lisbon's Chiado neighborhood 

Lisbon’s most famous café is 103 years old today. When it opened on November 19, 1905 “A Brasileira” was such a friendly place that it even offered a free bica (the Lisbon version of an espresso) when you bought a bag of coffee beans just arrived from Brazil. Today, the coffee is no longer exclusively from that former Portuguese colony, and its waitors are notoriously the least friendly in the city.

Still, every single tourist seems to stop at A Brasileira. It’s located at the top of one of the city’s busiest pedestrian streets in the center of Chiado, and is found in every guidebook for having a statue of Fernando Pessoa at a table outside. For those who don’t know who he was, Pessoa was one of the greatest Portuguese poets of all time, a literary genious who used to sit and write at this café in the early 20th century. Today his bronze statue at the Brasileira is one of those mandatory photo stops in Lisbon.

If you won’t mind the less-than-courteous waitors, choose to sit inside, as opposed to everyone else who prefers the outdoor tables. That way you get to admire the magnificent carved dark-wood interior, and the prices there are cheaper too. Enjoy the delicious coffee, or come for a toasted sandwich or a traditional Portuguese pastry. But if you do insist on sitting outside so you can breathe in the fresh air and people-watch along with everyone else, choose Café Benard next door instead. It’s another legendary café, and although the staff will not be a great improvement from their neighbors, its famous chocolate croissants make up for it and the coffee is just as good.

See GoLisbon’s selection of Lisbon cafes here.

Lisbon’s Best Rooftop Bars

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Entretanto - Rooftop bar in LisbonIn a city so stunningly sited down a number of hills towards a river, you know there have to be some fantastic views here and here. That’s true in Lisbon, with its number of terraces and gardens created as viewpoints to admire the city. But there are also buildings lucky enough to have been built in a place with an unobstructed view over the city, and they make good use of it.  Some of them are luxury apartments, others are hotels, others are restaurants. Others, following a worldwide trend, are rooftop bars. These are the best ones in Lisbon:

Opened only a few months ago, this bar has a 360º view of Lisbon from its 6th floor penthouse location in Chiado (Rua da Misericordia, 14). The views can be admired from the interior through its glass windows, or in the open air on the terrace. Take a look at the illuminated castle at night as you enjoy a bottle of champagne or a cocktail. This bar aims to be Lisbon’s most exclusive night spot, so getting in is the hard part. You either have to wait your turn in the already long guestlist, or if you’re a guest in one of the city’s top-end hotels, they can squeeze you in for one night.

ENTRETANTO at Regency Chiado
Open to everyone down the street around the corner from Silk is the Entretanto Bar, found at the top of the Regency Chiado Hotel. You can sit inside in the comfortable living room-style space, or step into the terrace that overlooks all of Baixa with the castle standing directly in front of you. You may order a drink or a light meal, or simply come for coffee or tea in the afternoon.

THE TERRACE at Bairro Alto Hotel
Go up Rua Garrett from outside Regency Chiado and you’ll arrive in Camões Square. It’s overlooked by the Bairro Alto Hotel, one of the most talked-about in Lisbon. Not only does it serve some fine cuisine at its “Flores” restaurant on the lower level, but its bar on the 6th floor has a beautiful panoramic view of the city. You’ll be standing parallel to the river, seeing the multitude of colors of the buildings descending the hill towards it as you have a light meal (the salads are excellent) or a refreshing drink. It’s also a great place for a drink after dinner, with the moon reflecting on the river and 25 de Abril Bridge.

Europe’s Largest Christmas Tree Returns to Lisbon

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Europe’s largest Christmas tree stood for the first time in Lisbon in 2004, and returned in the following years to the very same spot in the city’s Comercio Square (you can see a video of the 2006 tree here). Last year it left the Portuguese capital and was instead planted in the country’s second city, Porto.

In 2008 it returns to Lisbon although not in the same square that it called home for two years. This time it will stand on Edward VII Park overlooking the city all the way down to the river. It will not be as tall (last time it measured 76 meters), reaching a height of “only” 44 meters due to the fact that the top of the park is much higher than its previous low riverfront location and it could interfere with the airplanes passing by on their way to the city’s airport. However, even with this year’s scaled-down version, Portugal will continue to have the tallest Christmas tree in Europe for one more year.

It will be sponsored by different companies for a total investment that can reach between one and two million euros, with the lights turning on on November 22nd. It will brighten the holiday season until January, through which special musical events for the whole family will take place around the tree.

Madeira for the Holidays

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Royal Savoy Hotel, Madeira

It is now mid-November, so the time to plan your holidays is here. If you’re looking to escape to a warmer climate for New Year’s, somewhere with special celebrations but that won’t feel too foreign, the place for you is Portugal’s Madeira island. Its New Year’s fireworks show is one of the most spectacular in Europe, and throughout the Christmas season its capital Funchal is filled with light and holiday spirit.

Madeira is one of those places where you don’t necessarily go to see monuments, but rather to enjoy a one-of-a-kind setting, a subtropical paradise as close to the Equator as it is to Europe, but with a distinct European feeling (almost as British as Portuguese). It is also an island to experience what elsewhere may be unaffordable luxury to most of us, but that here is offered at reasonable prices. Open up a major travel publication ranking the best hotels Europe, and it’s guaranteed that you’ll see one from Madeira.

In fact, those hotels are an essential part of the Madeira experience, and when choosing your ideal place to stay in the island you must take into consideration your budget and your personality. Depending on those factors, these are the hotels in Madeira you should consider for the upcoming holiday season:

Designed to provide the most breathtaking views of the Atlantic (inclusing from its garden and outdoor swimming pool), this luxurious hotel is for those looking for a romantic getaway, and the perfect gift for a special someone for the holidays.

Travelers looking for the utmost sophistication should choose this hotel that’s constantly voted one of the best in Europe. It overlooks practically the entire island, and is comprised of bungalow-style units designed by architects and designers who’d previously worked on resorts in Malasya and Bora Bora. For a similar exotic experience in European territory, this is the place to go.

A member of Design Hotels, this is the choice of young, cosmopolitan travelers who look for cuting edge interior design and sheer sophistication. Enjoy a meal by a 3-Michelin star chef at the restaurant and the deluxe rooftop spa at the end of your day.

A 19th century mansion with luxurious gardens and stunning views was converted into this exclusive hotel. The décor is classic elegance, which extends to the two restaurants offering first-class cuisine. Mature couples will love it, and it’s ideal for a second honeymoon.

You’re practically standing on the Atlantic at this hotel that is a good choice for a family holiday. There’s a large saltwater pool for adults, as well as a children’s pool, mini golf, tennis court, and other sports facilities, in addition to private access to the sea.