Archive for May, 2011

5 Places to Discover in Lisbon Right Now

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Museu do Chiado, Lisbon

Medeiros e Almeida Museum
It’s celebrating its 10th anniversary on June 1st with free admission, but despite being open for a decade, only a couple of guidebooks have found it. So it remains one of Lisbon’s least-known attractions, even when holding one of its most important private collections of art. From paintings to decorative art, this is an extraordinary collection that could complement a visit to the Gulbenkian Museum.

Chiado Museum
Also celebrating a birthday, but this one with an extra zero, is the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Better known as the Chiado Museum, it is found in a very small space for such a large collection, so only part of it is on display in temporary exhibitions. Finally, at 100 years old, it will apparently expand at the end of the year. The building next to it will be vacant and the process of incorporating it into the museum will begin.

Monsanto Park
Very few know it, but Lisbon has one of the largest urban parks in the world. It’s a protected forest that’s been cleaned up in the last few years, and in addition to outdoor activities, it’s also been used as a stage for concerts. This June, on Sundays, you’ll be able to catch free concerts, part of the annual OutJazz festival that takes place in several parts of the city.

The Greenhouse
It was closed for almost two years for restoration works, and just reopened last month. This greenhouse in Edward VII Park is a wonderland of hundreds of species of plants from around the world, and with a certain magical atmosphere to relax in the middle of the city.

Sky Bar
It’s only open in the summer, and it’s now back for another season of cocktails overlooking the city. Found at the top of the Tivoli Lisboa Hotel in Avenida da Liberdade, this rooftop terrace is perfect to admire Lisbon after a day of sightseeing, and having a drink before or after dinner.

5 New Restaurants in Lisbon

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Sushi Café Avenida, Lisbon

Found within walking distance from the many hotels in Avenida da Liberdade, this is an excellent choice for a healthy lunch (dinners are only served on Fridays and Saturdays). It serves contemporary macrobiotic cuisine, most of it vegetarian and with some gluten-free options, using fresh and mostly-organic ingredients. The dining area has an attractive minimalist décor, and the prices are just as inviting.
Address: Rua Rodrigo Sampaio, 94C
Phone: 213546234

The fourth restaurant of local chef-restaurateur Olivier focuses on “guilty pleasures.” Instead of presenting his usual contemporary/Mediterranean cuisine, here the options are pizzas, burgers, pastas and salads. The décor follows the same inspiration as the other three spaces — a mix of comfort, elegance and sophistication.
Address: Rua Barata Salgueiro, 28A
Phone: 211 913 590

It replaced a Moroccan restaurant, and instead of tagines the specialty is now fondues of exotic meats. That includes crocodile, kangaroo or ostrich, but if you’re not that open-minded to new culinary experiences, you can always go for the grilled fish or even a veggie option. As in many other restaurants in Bairro Alto, the dining area is not very big, so booking ahead is recommended.
Address: Rua da Atalaia, 70
Phone: 213 468 494

The name derives from the fact that it’s found in the same building as the Pharmacy Museum. It faces the Santa Catarina viewpoint, and has tables placed outside. The interior is inspired by classic old pharmacies, and the cuisine is traditional Portuguese “petiscos” (which you may call “tapas”). Perfect for groups, many of the dishes are meant to be shared by everyone at the table.
Address: Rua Marechal Saldanha, 1
Phone: 213 462 146

Is this yet another sushi restaurant? Yes, but this one differs in ambience and the standards of quality are aimed higher. It has a very attractive contemporary interior, divided into several areas, for more formal or casual experiences. The traditional sushi can also be enjoyed at the bar, while in a more elegant room you can also go for other lesser-known Japanese dishes.
Address: Rua Barata Salgueiro, 28
Phone: 211 928 158

The VFM Awards — The Best City in Europe: Lisbon

Monday, May 16th, 2011

The Sunday Times Travel magazineThe June 2011 issue of The Sunday Times Travel magazine features its annual list of what it calls the “VFM Awards.” That’s where it highlights the most affordable places in the world that are also quite rewarding travel experiences (VFM stands for “Value For Money”). In the European category, the “best city” was Lisbon. Described as a “sexy-sultry” destination, this is the second year in a row that it’s been singled out in this category, and 2011’s biggest competitor was second-place Berlin.
Accompanied by a photo of the Bica elevator, the article also highlights the must-see Jeronimos Monastery and the obligatory stop just a few feet away, the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, better known as the Pastéis de Belém (custard tarts) shop.

The New Kiosk-Cafés in Lisbon’s Avenida da Liberdade

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Avenida da Liberdade kiosk cafés, LisbonThis weekend is the grand opening of five (to be six later in the year) kiosk cafés down Lisbon’s main central avenue, Avenida da Liberdade. Each kiosk will serve its own specialty, from light meals to smoothies, and are found scattered down the boulevard.
You’ll find them just by walking down the Avenida, but to locate them on a map, look for the cross streets. One of them is Rua Alexandre Herculano, at which intersection are “Banana Café” and “Hot Dog Lovers.” The first one offers lights meals such as wraps, salads and smoothies, while the second one obviously specializes in hot dogs but also serves tapas and Portuguese wine.
Down by Rua das Pretas are the third and fourth kiosks, one serving rectangular slices of pizza, calzone, panini and bruschettas, while the other belongs to “the best chocolate cake in the world,” the famous cake that was born in Lisbon and that has now been exported internationally. In addition to the slices of chocolate there will also be other pastries, as well as sandwiches, ice cream and juices.
Towards the end of the avenue, by Restauradores Square, will be a second “Banana Café” which will be identical to the first one above.
These kiosks will open every day at 9AM and will close at 11PM (2AM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays), so you may find the refreshment of your choice and sit in the open air on the pavement cafés at almost any time of the day.

Off-the-Beaten-Path Lisbon by Author Philip Graham

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Author Philip GrahamAmerican author Philip Graham has written this post for GoLisbon, sharing his off-the-beaten-path discoveries in Chiado, one of Lisbon’s most visited neighborhoods. His book “The Moon Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon” (a collection of essays narrating the year he lived in Lisbon with his family) is on sale now.

Lisbon, as I’ve said many times to friends and family, will surprise you. Perhaps the best example is that, even in Chiado, one of the most heavily touristed areas in the city, you can still take a short walk a bit off the beaten path that will be filled with pleasant surprises.
Yes, Chiado’s Café a Brasileira, with its outdoor stand of umbrella-ed tables where you can sip and be seen by passing fellow travelers, is a worthy stop. The high-end shops down Rua Garrett deserve window—as well as actual shopping. And there’s nearly always some unusual street performance underway at the Praça Luís de Camões.
But if you’re inclined to make a brief escape from the gravitational pull of the usual tourist attraction, simply walk south from the Largo do Chiado, down the Rua do Alecrim. You’re just a block away from the lovely Largo do Barão de Quintella, a tiny green park centered around the dark marble statue celebrating one of Portugal’s greatest writers, the novelist Eça de Queiroz. He stands (fully clothed) beside the figure of a half naked woman, her arms spread in supplication. She’s meant to represent Truth, and at the base of this statue is a quote from Queiroz, the one that inspired the sculptor:

“Sobre a nudez forte de verdade
A manto diaphano da fantasia,”

which roughly translates into English as:

“Over the hard nakedness of truth
Lies a gauzy veil of fantasy.”

That’s as pithy a description of most people’s daily reality as can be found in literature, and it’s worth pausing to contemplate. You can continue your contemplations as you then make your way to the southeast corner of the park and walk across the street to Sant’anna (95-97 Rua do Alecrim), an excellent shop specializing in Portuguese azulejos. These are traditional colorful tiles, an art form that was originally influenced by the abstract patterned tiles of the Moors, who ruled over much of Portugal in the Middle Ages. The Portuguese versions, however, go much more for representation, the patterns featuring leaves, flowers, fruit, etc. You can also find pottery and dishes at the shop, though the tiles are the main attraction.
But be careful what you buy. Over ten years ago my wife and I purchased a couple boxes of azulejos from Sant’anna, and that initial purchase of about $150 turned into the basis of a very expensive—but satisfying—kitchen renovation.

Other azulejos tell a story, each square tile forming a small part of a larger illustrated drama: battle scenes, depictions of daily life from other centuries, religious miracles, all designed to be displayed in one’s home or on an exterior wall. One might say that Portuguese azulejos were one of the earliest forms of popular graphic art.

Once you’ve explored enough in Sant’anna, simply walk one block east, along the southern edge of the Largo do Barão de Quintella, and you’ll be in sight of BdMania (Rua das Flores, 71), a small shop where you can find another, more contemporary kind of graphic art; this place is stacked with all manner of graphic novels, comics, Japanese manga, you name it. Are you a fan of steam punk? This is the place for you. Each table is packed with an amazing range of merchandise. I once bought for my wife there a French graphic novel about a traveling band of klezmer musicians.
After your extended stint of exploring in these two shops, perhaps it’s time to think about lunch. Keep walking south on the Rua das Flores, in the direction of the Tejo river. You’re looking for Restaurant a Carvoaria (Rua das Flores, 6), but don’t look for a sign, there isn’t one. There isn’t a menu posted outside, either. Just look for the street number—6—and there you are, standing in front of what looks like a hole in the wall. Literally. Just a darkened open doorway beckons you to a not entirely welcoming darkened space. Have no fear, though—take a few steps inside, let your eyes adjust, and then head for the stairs on your left. You’ll enter a much better lit but still cavernous space, chock-a-block with long tables filled with Portuguese business people and workers enjoying their mid-day meal in a restaurant that only serves lunch, within a two-hour window, from noon to a little after 2 o’clock. The food in Carvoaria is simple but satisfying. Go for the seafood, though the chicken dishes are just as succulent. Y’know, the rack of pork is fine too. The house red wine, served in ceramic jars, goes down smoothly—be careful, it will creep up on you. The entire atmosphere is of a happy, noisy family.
But don’t order a dessert or coffee. Save that final course for your last stop on this little tour, the nearby pastelaria Quatro Estações (Praça de São Paulo 17). Simply continue walking south on Rua das Flores, make your first right, onto Rua de São Paulo, and then take your first left. There you’ll find Quatro Estações, located in the middle of the block at the eastern end of the Praça de São Paulo.

The Moon Come to Earth: Dispatches from LisbonMake sure you grab a table near the window facing the praça—from there you’ll have a lovely view of the Church of São Paulo on the other side of the praça. I suggest this pastelaria not because the offerings of dessert or caffeinated beverages or freshly squeezed orange juice is better than any other of the myriad such pastelerias in Lisbon (though they are quite good here); instead I recommend it because of the clientele. The owners are a Brazilian couple that has created in their establishment a welcoming air to all and sundry, and the place is often swinging with an unusual cast of characters. I relaxed there several times during a year I spent in Lisbon, and while lingering over an espresso or the spongy goodness of a bolo de arroz, I could take in the informal rotating house entertainment of a pair of gypsies reading patrons’ palms for hints of the future, ancient veterans selling raffle tickets, and local characters who’d invented their own language or who imagined themselves powerful political figures. Strangers air-kiss other strangers, and for all the odd moments, the pastelaria maintains a mellow, happy mood. This is a real neighborhood gathering place, and as far from a den of tourists as you can get in downtown Lisbon.
Oh, right beside Quatros Estações is a dental clinic, but I doubt you’ll be eating that many sweets at the pastelaria.