Archive for July, 2009

Lisbon’s Oceans Festival

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Festival dos Oceanos, LisboaTonight at midnight marks the start of this year’s Oceans Festival. It’s an event that takes place every year in the summer in Lisbon, with a number of special shows and activities lasting for a couple of weeks. Since 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, this year’s festival will also focus on that field, as the exploration of the oceans centuries ago would not have been possible without the aid of the stars. So tonight Rua do Ouro downtown will be lit up in what look like Christmas lights during the day, but that in the darkness of night will have the effect of a planetarium.
Most of the events will take place by the waterfront districts of the city, and will include free visits to museums, hot air balloon rides, conferences, exhibitions, and music concerts. Those concerts will be by Portuguese artists and international guest James Morrison.
On the 9th of August an extra-special event will be the creation of the world’s largest painting, taking up five kilometers in total, with the theme being the stars, the oceans, and space. You may check out the entire program at the official website www.festivaldosoceanos.com

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Even More Lisbon Ice Cream

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Finzi Contini, Lisboa

Last summer we told you where to find Lisbon’s best ice cream (see I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Lisbon Ice Cream).
Soon after we published last year’s recommendations, Finzi Contini opened next to Rossio Station in the center of the city, offering an extra variety of flavors, along with smoothies and other creamy pleasures. It does not have the look of a typical ice cream shop, but more of a sophisticated café, with elegant furnishings in its interior and outdoor terrace. It’s open throughout the year, so if you’re in the city in winter, you can still enjoy an ice cream or go for one of the warmer pastries.
An even more recent opening is Artisani, an ice scream stand with tables facing 25 de Abril Bridge in Docas. It will remain open throughout the summer, but will then close at its present location to open elsewhere in the center of the city. In the meantime, you may enjoy the most surprising and often unusual flavors in Lisbon, served in a cup or as an iced beverage. That can mean a cup of caipirinha ice cream, or a glass of mint tea with lemon sorbet, and using mostly natural ingredients.
Natural flavors and no preservatives is also promised at a corner of Restauradores Square. The charming A Veneziana ice cream shop is one of Lisbon’s oldest, a tiny space that’s so easy to miss but that you’ll return to every time you crave something cool and sweet. It all started in 1933 when an Italian decided to immigrate to the United States through the port of Lisbon, but ended up staying in the Portuguese capital. His traditional Italian recipes are still used at the ice cream shop he ended up opening in the city, and remains a success over seven decades later.

Artisani, Lisboa

Lisbon’s New Botto Machado Garden

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Jardim Botto Machado, Lisboa

Yesterday we told you about Lisbon’s renovated and rebaptized Graça viewpoint, and today we can tell you that another green space has also been cleaned up and reopened not too far from that viewpoint. That’s the Botto Machado Garden, found next to the National Pantheon where the city’s flea market takes place twice a week. Now you have a new space where you can sit, relax, and admire the river after browsing the market or visiting the monuments nearby (São Vicente de Fora Monastery and the National Pantheon), and if you have children with you, they now have a small playground available surrounded by the fresh air of newly-planted flowers and trees. There is also a new kiosk serving refreshments and offering chairs for visitors to relax for a while.

One of Lisbon’s Most Popular Viewpoints Has a New Name and Resident

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Miradouro da Graça, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Lisboa

One of Lisbon’s most popular viewpoints has been given a makeover and a new official name. Miradouro da Graça is a terrace in front of a church that has been a favorite hangout in the last few years thanks to its kiosk cafe that stays open until very late, and above all, its fantastic city views. One of its most famous fans was Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, a local poet who died in 2004 but who spent many of her days admiring the city from this viewpoint. To honor the writer, Lisbon has now placed her bust on the terrace looking out to the city, and renamed the site “Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen.” Of course everyone will continue to call it “Miradouro da Graça” (or “Graça Viewpoint”), but this will now also be Sophia’s eternal home, with one of her poems dedicated to Lisbon having been placed on a wall next to her bust.

Lisbon’s New Riverfront “Portable Garden”

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Cais das Colunas, Lisboa

Lisbon’s Comercio Square will remain closed for renovation over the next few months, but you may still snap a few photos of its triumphal arch, and enjoy its waterfront side. A total of 45 colorful seats have been placed by the river, all with an olive tree standing behind them. It’s the creation of Leonel Moura, a Portuguese artist who’d presented this “Portable Garden” project at the Valencia Biennial before Lisbon’s city hall requested that he place it in the city’s largest square. Alone or in a group, you can now also admire the restored waterfront, which again features historical columns that were removed years ago. You will also get a view of 25 de Abril Bridge as you relax and watch commuters from the city’s suburbs rush to or from the ferries connecting to the south bank of the Tagus.

Cais das Colunas, Lisboa

UPDATE: SINCE THIS REPORT, THE “GARDEN” HAS MOVED. IT’S NOW LOCATED ON THE RIVERFRONT BEHIND CAIS DO SODRÉ STATION.

“Cocktail 88” Review: A Cocktail Bar… With No Cocktails

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Cocktail 88, Lisboa

It looks like a cool, attractive place judging from the website, and it has been featured in a couple of local publications, including “Time Out Lisboa.” So I decided to check out “Cocktail 88” last night and judge it for myself so that I could then add it to our recommendations at GoLisbon. “Cocktail 88” is a relatively new cocktail bar just around the corner from the city’s cathedral, and with a 7PM opening time, sounded like a great pre-dinner cocktail destination. I was going to a restaurant in the neighborhood, so I finally visited this bar with some pretty high expectations. Perhaps because I had been sold on it being such a cool new place, my high expectations only led to my biggest disappointment at a Lisbon bar so far.
We were given the same long list of cocktails that is seen on the website, and made our selections. Apparently they were the wrong ones because they could not be served due to a lack of one of their ingredients. We made other choices, and again — not available. So my friend simply asked for the Cosmopolitan but was told she couldn’t have that either because it had cranberry juice and they had run out of it. Just the lack of cranberry juice knocked down a huge number of other possible choices.  And we couldn’t have anything with grapefruit juice either. And no martinis. So although the list is pretty long and tempting, we gave up and thought it was just easier to ask what they did have. Our waitress then suggested a mojito and a caipirinha — basically something we could have at any of the small Bairro Alto bars. Apparently that’s the only thing they could serve because those were exactly the options written on the wall behind the counter as some sort of “daily specials.” So that’s what we had. The other house specialty is sushi, but we were obviously afraid to ask.  The waitress justified the lack of cocktail options with the fact that they were going through “inventory” and that in August they’ll have everything again.  That poor excuse sounded like a restaurant saying “I’m sorry we don’t have any of the dishes on the menu, but we can still offer you a couple of appetizers!…”
As my friend and I agreed, when a business can not offer its main service, it’s perhaps a good idea to shut down for a few days, pretend to go on vacation, and only reopen when it’s back on track.  By providing only a very limited part of its service it risks having negative word-of-mouth ruin the business.
Cocktail 88 could be a very welcomed addition to the city’s bar scene, and especially in its neighborhood. But perhaps it should learn something from Kuta not too far away, which is the cocktail bar I’ll return to whenever I’m in that part of town. Cocktail 88 will only be given another try when I hear anyone say it actually serves cocktails.
It’s sad to see a business with such great potential be ruined by obviously very bad management.  And it wouldn’t hurt having a couple of bills in their cash register either. I was given 10 euros of change, all in 1-euro coins. I didn’t mind because it’s actually convenient to carry smaller change in your wallet, but I found it sad that to the very last minute, my entire time at Cocktail 88 was with the waitress apologizing for something. In the end, I am the one sorry to say I can not recommend “Cocktail 88” and what could have become a place to return to several times with different people, is not one I’ll be heading to anytime soon, simply because I literally have no reason to!

From the Moon to Portugal

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Moon Landing

The 40th anniversary on the first moon landing was all over the news last Monday, and despite what conspiracy theorists say, man has in fact reached the Earth’s natural satellite and there are rocks that prove it. One of those rocks that was brought back to Earth from the moon’s surface has been on display in the science museum of Coimbra University in Portugal since May. It will now be returned to NASA in the United States, but before it goes, there is still a chance for those in the city of Coimbra to see it in person. Tomorrow, between 6PM and midnight, visitors to that university museum will be able to learn about the difference between lunar basalt and the kind of basalt found on Earth, as well as ask questions to a geologist. There will also be videos of the Apollo missions in the museum’s amphitheater, and children will be able to build their own miniature space shuttle.
If you can’t be in Coimbra tomorrow night, know that those fascinated by outer space may always visit Lisbon’s planetarium, located next to Jeronimos Monastery and the Maritime Museum.

Lisbon’s Belem Palace Opens Itself Further to the Public

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Palacio de Belem, Lisbon

Most tourists visiting Lisbon go on a daytrip to Sintra, the romantic town filled with spectacular palaces just a short train ride away. They visit the fairytale Pena Palace, see the dazzling National Palace, and become enchanted by the unusual architecture of Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate Palace. Those who feel they just can’t get enough of royal extravagance also visit Lisbon’s Ajuda Palace, but rarely see Belem Palace nearby. It only opens itself to visitors once a week because it is still the official residence of the president of Portugal, but it does have an adjoining museum dedicated to all of the past leaders of the Portuguese Republic. At the palace itself visitors can see some beautiful gardens that have recently been cleaned up, and to celebrate that, there will be a special exhibition and events this month. From the 23rd to the 26th there will be opera at 9:30PM, Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” produced by the São Carlos National Theater. On those days, the Presidency Museum will be free and remain open until midnight, allowing access to a temporary exhibition (open until 8PM) where visitors can see a beautiful, recently-restored structure commissioned by Queen Maria I in 1780 to hold the most exotic birds taken from the Portuguese Empire in Asia, Africa, and Brazil. There are no live birds at this exhibition but there will be some embalmed examples, and visitors can get to see a typical European baroque garden with sumptuous decoration and dramatic effects.
If you want to stay for the opera, it’s 20 euros for those over 25 years of age, and 13 euros for the younger ones. Tickets are sold at the museum’s ticket counter.

Lisbon, City of Tolerance

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Lisbon is promoting itself as the City of Tolerance. Of course it was the first European capital to get African slaves and its central square the site of the murder of thousands of Jews during the Inquisition, but it’s also been a welcoming haven for all cultures and ethnicities in more recent times. Africans and other ethnic minorities gather in São Domingos Square (directly behind the central Rossio), and that’s exactly where a monument reminding of the horrors of the Inquisition has been placed together with a mural with the phrase “Lisbon, City of Tolerance” in several languages. The explanation for why Africans chose to make that their meeting point is that the church on the site once had a black priest and has therefore always attracted the communities from Portugal’s former African colonies.

Lisbon’s claim as a tolerant city does have its foundation. It has always been a safe place for refugees (especially during WWII), and it did abolish slavery before the rest of Europe. Since the late 1970s it has also received large numbers of immigrants, mostly from Africa, and more recently from Brazil and Eastern Europe. In the Mouraria neighborhood, and especially around Martim Moniz Square are a number of ethnic shops, including a shopping center where you can find products from India to China.
There is some “segregation” of these ethnic groups to their own neighborhoods and an increased sense of social tensions around Lisbon’s suburbs, but the Portuguese capital does remain a much more peaceful and tolerant city than other European capitals and it hopes to stay that way.
The memorial you see on the photo below was placed 500 years after the Inquisition and says “In memory of the thousands of Jews victims of intolerance and religious fanaticism, murdered in the massacre started on this square on the 19th of April 1506.”

Lisbon, City of Tolerance

Lisbon, City of Tolerance

Nightlife’s a Beach – Lisbon’s New “K Urban Beach”

Monday, July 20th, 2009

K Urban Beach, Lisboa

For those of you who just can’t get away from the shore day or night during the summer, there has always been the Tamariz beach club by the beach of the same name in Estoril just outside Lisbon. Others prefer the beaches of Costa da Caparica to the south and stay at their bars after the sun goes down. But since last week there is a beach bar/club right in the center of the capital. It is found on the riverfront in the Santos district, right next to the restaurant “Kais.”  It’s called “K Urban Beach,” with the “K” in the name coming from “Grupo K,” the team behind some of Lisbon’s hottest clubs and restaurants (Kremlin, Kapital, Kais…), as well as Kubo, a bar that heat up Lisbon’s nights for the past two summers and that we told you about last year: Magic Kubo
Kubo will return as a permanent venue later this year, so its seasonal substitute is this”urban beach” which is essentially everything that made Kubo a success, plus some sand. There are two bars, a dance floor, and a dining area serving light meals, all before the long chairs and tables over the sand. The DJs are some of the ones that mix at other “K” clubs, and the music will be spinning until 4AM every day of the week. The opening time is 6PM, so head on to the beach by the Tagus and have a drink with your feet in the sand right after work or following a full day of sightseeing.