Archive for December 17, 2006

Lisboa – what a beautiful city!

“Lisbon is often likened in guide-books to San Francisco, because of its streets that rise so dramatically from the waterfront, and Rome, because it is built on seven hills. In truth, there is, and surely never will be, any mistaking the Portuguese capital for anywhere else. So far from surrending its compelling character to the twenty-first century’s forces of homogeneity, the new prosperity has instead revived Lisbon’s justifiable pride in its distinctiveness.”

Martin Page, in The First Global Village: How Portugal Changed the World, p. 29

Day two in Lisbon was spent with a visit to the Mercado da Ribeira, near the port, and the Feira da Ladra, Lisbon’s main flea market, before heading out and exploring the neighbourhood around the Castle de São Jorge. After finding the restaurants that had been recommended to me closed again (I finally gave up looking for particular restaurants and just went for whatever looked ok), we took a tram to Chiado where we had lunch at Cervejaria Trindade, one of the oldest beer halls in Lisbon. At night we went for a nice Portuguese meal at Bairro Alto and walked around a bit to check the Christmas lights, which were really impressive.

Mercado da RibeiraEntrance to Feira da LadraView from the castleIgreja do CarmoCastelo

Christmas lightsLightslights

chestnut vendors

Sunday was mostly spent in Belem, where we visited the Torre de Belem and the Mosteiro dos Jerônimos. All the attractions were free that day, as it is most sundays between 10 am and 2 pm. It was cold but we had beautiful blue sky, as you can see in some of the pictures:

Torre de BelemTorre de BemePeople enjoying the nice dayFountain in front of monasteryInside monastery

MonasteryPillars at monastery

We had planned to go to Sintra in our last day, monday, but we felt that we hadn’t seen enough of Lisbon. So we went back to some of the places we had passed by quickly (like Alfama, Graça and the northern part of Bairro Alto) and explored them more fully. Another nice sunny day!

School trip near castleStairs and more stairsLisbon doorsArchwayTram 28

View of the alfamaLisbon house

To cap it off, we had our last meal in Lisbon at an Indian restaurant recommended by our friend Detlef, a Lisbon resident. It’s one of those places you would never think of going in but that has become quite an institution among those “in the know”. The restaurant is located on the first floor of a residential building just off Plaça da Figueira and it looks very simple and low-key but the food was amazing! Fitting end for the trip…

Dodgy entrance to restaurantMain door

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For a slideshow of these pictures and more click here; for a static selection go here.

And here’s for my top five list about Lisbon:

  1. Pastéis de Belém at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém
  2. The uncanny light that baskes the city
  3. Drinking Ginginha at a Ginginha bar at the end of a cold day
  4. The incredible friendliness of Lisboeta, who haven’t been jaded by seeing their city overan by tourists in recent years and still go out of their way to point us in the right direction. An older man actually stopped us on the street to make sure we hadn’t miss ed the lookout at the end of the street.
  5. How much it taught me about my own roots

December 17, 2006 at 6:22 pm 6 comments

More on Lisbon and Portugal

Perhaps no European country went through such radical change so fast.  From 1933 to 1974 Portugal was under a right-wing dictatorship that kept it isolated from the rest of the world and stunted much of its growth.  By 1960 77% of its population still lived in the countryside under a rigid social hierarchy in which the illiterate peasants obeyed wealthy landowners and women were encouraged to stay at home by the traditionalist regime. During the 1960s-1970s, the dictator Salazar got the country embroiled in a bloody war in its colonies in Africa (mainly Angola) and over a million young Portuguese emigrated to avoid the draft. As the Portuguese writer Maria Filomena Mónica puts it, it was better to be a construction worker in Paris than to die in the swamps of the Guiné in Africa.

In 1974 a coup ended the dictatorship. In the early 1980s, as Alison Roberts describes it, Portugal’s image was still one of “genteel decay”. Money was scarce and emigration to northern Europe or America continued. But democracy, the end of the wars in Africa, and Portugal’s arrival into the European Union in 1986 helped revolutionize the country.  EU money poured into infrastructure – the signs are still obvious today in the network of brand new highways that crisscross the country as well as in the modern public transit system.  The newly elected social democratic government led by Aníbal Cavaco Silva had more doctorates among them than the British cabinet had bachelor’s degrees. Portugal had the lowest literacy and numeracy rates among adult population in western Europe. Within 5 years, however,  literacy and numeracy rates among 18 year-olds had surpassed that of England.

The speed with which Portugal emerged from a “third-world” status was startling. Families can now afford to heat their homes in the winter, sewage systems have been installed, tuberculosis and other diseases linked to poverty have declined markedly, gap between the rich and the poor have narrowed, and inflation is among the lowest in western Europe.

The arrival of the eastern European countries into the EU has been a challenge to Portugal, as it lost much foreign investment to those countries. Unemployment has began to rise. But I believe that Portuguese industriousness and adaptability will win and they will be able mount this challenge to their economy.

December 17, 2006 at 5:08 pm Leave a comment


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