Archive for December 13, 2006

Portuguese trivia

While we wait for my pictures, here are some trivia on the Portuguese’s contribution to the world:

  • the Louvre pyramide was built by a Portuguese construction company
  • Portuguese is the second language of Johannesburg in South Africa, of Newark, NJ, of Luxembourg, and of Caracas, Venezuela
  • The Portuguese were in Japan trading and discussing theology with Buddhist monks generations before other European countries even knew of its existence. Some words still current in Japanese come from Portuguese, like “orrigato”, from “obrigado”, meaning “thank you”
  • they introduced tempura into Japan
  • they taught the Japanese how to construct buildings that would withstand both artillery attack and earthquake – the Portuguese-built city of Nagasaki withstood the atomic bomb of 1945 a lot better than Hiroshima
  • the Portuguese brought the chili plant to India, allowing for the invention of “curry”
  • Portuguese is by far the most difficult of the Latin languages to master
  • it is also the third most spoken European language after English and Spanish, and before French and German
  • most “Italian” trattorias in London are run by Portuguese, as well as many “French” restaurants in Paris

December 13, 2006 at 11:37 pm 4 comments

Lisbon trip part I

Travelling low cost

This is the first time we’ve travelled on a low-cost carrier. Things looked promising: booking on the internet was easy, our check-in counter was a lot less crowded than Iberia’s counter. “Wow, this is not bad at all. I wonder why people would pay full fares.” That optimism lasted until Alan checked his boarding pass a bit more closely. “What?? We don’t get a seat number??” he yelled as flashbacks of bad experiences travelling standby as an airline employee flashed through his mind. Apparently not.

I tried to appease him saying it didn’t really matter, all the seats were the same anyways. Having said that, I hastened to add “but make sure you grab the seats by the emergency exit”. To which Alan replied: “I thought you said all the seats were the same…” Well, I have long legs.

He had sort of calmed down and resigned to the fact that we may have to fight for seats when a new surprise appeared. We had passed through security and started looking for gate 27. We follow the signs, get to the room where gate 27 was supposed to be but fail to find it. We then see a set of stairs leading to the room below, at street level. The sign was clear – “Gates 27 & 28”. “What?? We don’t even get a gate???” Not really. We had to catch a bus to the airplane. Having lived through the golden years of international aviation, the whole experience was a bit of a cultural shock for my poor hubby. Some of the pearls I had to listen:

“I wonder if we get flight attendants.”

“Next thing we know, we’ll have to pay for the bus ride to the airplane.”

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The whole experience was ok, though. The employees were very professional and curteous, the flights left on time and arrived a few minutes early, and both planes were half empty (or half full, depending on how you see things), meaning we didn’t have to fight for seats. But I sure wish someone would explain to me how these carriers can survive when they charge so little for their tickets… I was pricing a trip from Barcelona to Granada in February and it would have cost 40 euros, all inclusive (taxes, etc), for Alan and I. That is: 20 euros each. Return.

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More trip reports will come on Friday, when I finally get my pictures back from the photo lab (sigh! I wish I had a digital SLR…)

December 13, 2006 at 10:35 pm 1 comment

Portugal

On Friday, December 8, Alex and I boarded a ClickAir flight to Lisbon. We had been planning a trip to Lisbon and Alex managed to buy 2 return tickets for 120 euros. It was my first experience on a low cost carrier and we were travelling with just carry on luggage. The flight was not full so there were no problems but I don’t think I’ll travel low cost again because of one thing, the open seating. If that flight were full, it would have stressed me out totally. I know, it shouldn’t but ……….. Besides, if you book further out, the prices are not that high on regular carriers. We’ll have to see.

Alex was planning our Lisbon activities even before we left Barcelona. What restaurants we’ll eat in, what sights we’ll see, if there’s anything extra special to visit, etc. She loves doing that when we go on a trip somewhere and really knows her way around once we get there.

After a 2 hour flight, we landed at Lisbon airport. It’s not far from downtown and we had no problems finding the aerobus to take us there. It cost 3 euros but that included all day access to trams and buses (not metros). We got off at Praca dos Restauradores, walked across the square and found our hotel without any trouble at all.

After dumping our bags, we headed out the door to do some exploring. We walked up to Bairro Alto and Chiado because Alex had found a restaurant she wanted to have lunch at. When we got there we found it closed so we did a random thing and found another one. After eating we walked over to the 1920’s café, Brasileira, in Chiado. Once the haunt of writers and intellectuals, it has maintained it’s look and feel from that era.

After a fine café, we jumped on the 28 tram and took it to the end of the line. This route is a must because it takes you from the crest of one hill, around the castle on the other hill and back down to the square.

The driver was very friendly and actually picked us up between stops. These trams are beautiful cars from an era where craftmanship dominated. The inside was beautiful wood and brass.

Lisbon is a city built on 7 hills and the streets in some areas are very narrow. The trams are perfect, small and powerful, they can get up the steepest streets and around the tightest corners. The regular trams and buses would not be able to go into the older parts of the city.

After wandering around all day, we went back for a siesta before heading to Walter’s and Detlef’s restaurant, Pano de Boca. Before that, though, we had to have a ginjinha. GinJinha has to be the most localised drink in the world. It is only found in certain neighbourhoods in Lisbon.

Ginjinha is a cherry liquer and it is the only thing sold in this bar.

This place had crowds outside, sipping their ginjinha. It was a great way to finish up the day.

After resting a bit we headed out for supper to Detlef’s restaurant.

He managed to talk me in to having a beer, a dark beer on top of that and I really enjoyed it. We finally met Walter, Sebastian has many tales about experiences working with Walter, and I was really glad to meet him at last.

We sat down to an amazing meal. I had wild boar that was excellent, VERY good. Detlef picked the wine and it went very well with my meal. Detlef, if you read this, send me the name of the wine in a comment. Alex and I want to thank you and Walter for an excellent evening, it was great.

The next morning we were out of the hotel by 8:30. We were going up to Castelo de Sao Jorge in Alfama. The oldest remains found here date back to the 6th century BC.

The castle itself has parts that date from the 10th – 11th centuries. It was here that Vasco da Gama was welcomed by King Manuel I after returning from India. It was declared a national monument in 1910 and sits up on the top of the highest hill in Lisbon. To get there we took the 28 tram and walked through the back streets at the top.

After wandering around medieval streets we finally came across the castle.

Walking in the castle grounds was very peaceful. It was hard to imagine that this was a building designed for war and I’m sure that many unpleasant things happened to people here.

The slope was very evident here, it would have been a difficult place to storm.

We walked all around the castle, up steps along the ramparts, lot’s of places to explore.

We left the castle and started walking in the general direction of our hotel. On the way dwon, Alex went into an artisan’s shop. She called me in and I was astonished. It had been a stable for horses and each display was in a stone water trough for the horses. This building predated the earthquake of 1756. They didn’t really know it’s age but the coat of arms over the door was dated around the 15th century. They were pretty sure that the coat of arms had been added to the building and was not part of the original building. Across the street was the cathedral Sé. It was started around 1150 but earthquakes and fires have taken it’s toll.

The cloisters was being excavated by archeologists. There were roman and moorish artifacts being found here. Even the outline of roman streets were here. The building is in rough shape but that just adds to it’s beauty.

We walked back to Bairro Alto and Chiado and went for lunch. You’ll have to read Alex’s blog about our meals, she’s the food expert and lover. After lunch we went to the ruins of Igreja do Carmo.

Founded in the late 14th century by Nuno Alvares, the church was at one time, the biggest in Lisbon. It was destryed in the earthquake of 1756 killing many as the roof and walls collapsed on those inside.

The chancellory survived the earthquake and now houses an archaeological museum. It’s very interesting. We walked around some more and found dedicated trams for the steep streets.

I must confess that my knee was killing me walking around. When we went back to the hotel I soaked it in hot water to ease the pain. It had swelled up a lot too. This is the first time ever that I noticed swelling in my knee.

The next day we were on the streets by 9:00. We were going to Belem to see a few things that Alex had noticed. We hopped on the bus that took us along the river and got off at the Torre de Belem. It seems that Sunday is the day that all museums are free so we went to both the Torre and Mosteir.

Commisioned by Manuel I in 1515 as a fortress in Tagus river. It’s in amazing condition and the stonework is amazing. It once stood in the middle of the river but now lies just offshore. Leaving the Torre we went across to the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.

The entrance to the monastery is full of intricate detail, all carved in stone.

Building started in 1501 and was cared for by the Order of St Jerome until 1834 when all religious orders were disbanded. The cloisters in this monastery are stunning.

These are the halls around the central courtyard.

Time for coffee and an extra specila treat. Just around the corner from the monastery is Pasteis de Belem. This cafe has been here since 1837 and is world famous for its little pasteis.

We had a little lunch and then ordered the pasteis. Wow, we were not disappointed at all. We ordered 2 more becaue we noticed that everyone ordered 2 each and not wanting to be too different, we adapted. We actually went back the next day.

The rest of our visit was wandering in no particular fashion with no particular destination, just to take some photos like these……….

an HDR shot of a street showing how steep they can be

A water fountain at the end of tram # 28 route

Alex has a lot more to say about our food experiences and especially, thanks to Detlef’s tip, the surprise we had on our last evening in Lisbon. Go find out about it in her blog.

For more photos of Portugal, go here…….. or, for a slide show go here.

December 13, 2006 at 1:07 pm 4 comments

Just back from Lisbon

Tram 28

What a city. Alan and I got back this afternoon from Lisbon and we were both enchanted and to a certain degree mystified by that lovely city. I’ll be posting a trip report during the next few days, but for now I’ll leave you with what Lisbon meant for us during the past four days:

  • the sticky floor of a Ginginha bar
  • the warm light basking the castle in the late afternoon
  • the rickety ride on the tram 28
  • the warmth and helpfulness of Lisboetas
  • the unforgetful pastéis de Belém, wonderful warm custard pies sold near the Mosteiros de Jerônimos
  • coffee & pastry at the Café A Brasileira
  • frail old ladies carrying groceries up unimaginable hills
  • round breakfast buns
  • the smoke and smell, resembling that of firecrackers, emanating from the roasted chestnut stalls all over the city
  • tai chi and lazy afternoon at the park near the Torre de Belém
  • the apologetic behaviour of the airport security guy who had to confiscate Alan’s shaving cream and my hair mousse because they were above the prescribed limit (which we knew of course, but tried to see if we could get away with it)

The list could go on and on…

December 13, 2006 at 12:05 am 1 comment


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