A December 2009 trip
to Lisbon by Owen Lipsett
Quote: I had the pleasure of revisiting Lisbon after a five year absence and found, to my surprise, that not a great deal had changed... besides prices.
Attraction | "The History of Art According to Calouste Gulbenkian"
The museum itself is located in a strangely appealing brutalist building which has ivy growing over its concrete. It's part of a pleasant garden complex in the north of Lisbon that also contains a modern art collection and the Gulbenkian Foundation’s performance space. Despite its relatively small size for a major museum, its scope is extremely broad, covering virtually the entire history of Eastern and Western Art alike, with strong representations of certain areas that were obviously Gulbenkian’s favorites. The first, and to my mind most impressive of these, are Egyptian statues, including a wonderfully crafted sculpture of a government bureaucrat that looks as if it could have made yesterday in terms of both its style and state of preservation. The nearby collection of Roman coins is quite interesting as well, as is the collection of Armenian art in a nod to Gulbenkian’s ancestral home (he was actual born in what is now Turkey).
I personally found the paintings in the collection less impressive than examples of applied art, although Rembrandt’s "Portrait of an Old Man and Pallas Athena" is one of the artistic highlights not just of the museum but of Lisbon as a whole. Among the paintings, the strong collections are the English art in Room 13 (featuring Thomas Gainsborough and J.M.W. Turner) and the French Impressionist painting in Room 15 which features minor works by Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, and Edgar Degas, as well as several Rodin Sculptures.
The applied art collection is quite extensive - one can easily understand how a wheeler and dealer like Gulbenkian (know as "Mr. Five Percent" for the commissions he took from deals he brokered) might have used some of the pieces at banquets that he hosted. There's also an extension collection of pieces by the Art Nouveau designer Rene Lalique, who was a personal friend of Gulbenkian's. Although I'm not especially interested in this period in general, I found these pieces to be one of its highlights. At the time of my visit they were further set off by a larger exhibition of art nouveau work in the temporary exhibition gallery.The museum is free from 10-2 on Sundays, as is the associated modern art collection, which I wouldn't particularly recommend unless you have a strong interest in 20th century Portuguese art. Both contain cafes and small museum shops, although strangely neither sells postcards of several of the museums' more famous pieces which I've referenced.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 2, 2010
Gulbenkian Museum (Museu Calouste Gulbenkian)
Av. De Berna 45a
Lisbon, Portugal 1067-001
21 782 3000
Attraction | "For the Kid in Everyone"
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 2, 2010
Parque das Nações
Pastelaria SuiçaLocated on the Rossio, http://www.casasuica.pt/.Located on both the Rossio and Praça da Figuera, this is perhaps Central Lisbon’s most famous café. Certainly, its location is difficult to beat as somewhere to watch Lisbon slowly drift before you. However, if you’re going there on a winter’s night as I was, being seated outdoors is less important than somewhere warm to sit, hopefully accompanied by similarly warm food and service. Suiça delivered in all three of these regards. The interior dining room is pleasant, although given its historic renown (it was founded in 1922), rather less excitingly decorated than one might expect. However, the food itself – both the snacks and the cakes, were excellent. Unlike other similarly well known cafes (such as A Brasileira), Suiça seems to be trading on the quality of its food as well as its location. Judging by the facts that most of the waitstaff only speaks Portuguese and that the website is only in Portuguese as well, despite the fact that it attracts a lot of tourists, its clientele is primarily local, which may explain why its standards remain high.
A Brasileira120 Rua Garrett, near Baixa/Chiado Metro StationFounded in 1905 to sell genuine coffee from the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil (hence the name) A Brasileira is probably both Lisbon’s and Portugal’s most famous coffeehouse. It originally offered a free small cup of strong coffee to anyone who purchased a kilogram of ground coffee there, with the instructions "Beba Isto Com Açúcar" meaning "drink this with sugar," whose acronym "bica" then became synonymous in Portugal for a small cup of coffee equivalent to an Italian espresso. It was also later the haunt of the Portuguese modernist writer Fernando Pessoa (today honored with a sculpture on the patio), who did most of his writing there, as well as a number of other intellectuals, and has been described as the literal birthplace of Portuguese Modernism. Perhaps predictably, A Brasileira has cashed in on this history as a major tourist attraction and while the coffee is still good, nearly everything else is expensive enough to deter the next generation of Portuguese artists (or many Portuguese in general) from visiting. It’s certainly worth having a coffee in the bar (cheapest) to admire the décor or on the terrace in the summer (the most expensive), but the sandwiches and pastries are both overpriced and mediocre and service is rather slow.
Antiga Confeitaria de BelemRua de Belem 84-92, http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/ Among Portugal’s most delightful but least known (outside of Portugal) culinary specialties are custard tarts (known as pasteis de nata) which supposedly were first produced at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, literally down the street from this café. Fortunately, the monks couldn’t keep such a good thing to themselves and in 1837 this café began to sell them and continues to do so to this day, according to a secret recipe (although nearly every Portuguese bakery worldwide sells an imitation). The café itself also serves a variety of other pastries and good coffee, but the reason for visiting is to eat these delicious tarts hot out of the oven and because they’re better here than anywhere else. Although they’re topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon, they’re not as sweet as you might expect; my mother who doesn’t typically enjoy sweets or pastries generally loved them. As is usual at Portuguese cafes, it’s cheaper to eat standing up than in the labyrinthine rooms at the back which are decorated with antique Portuguese tiling. This is probably just as well, since once you (or at least) I bite into one of them, you immediately want more! Perhaps the best thing to do is to buy six in a special tube for take-out. Given their popularity amongst Lisboetas and tourists alike, the lines to buy the tarts are long – the café sells 10,000 on the average weekday (double that on weekends) and there’s only one counter.
Hotel | "Nice Hotel, Ambivalent Staff"
Location: Without a doubt, Hotel Florida's best aspect is its location. It's half a block from the Marques de Pombal traffic circle (the breakfast room looks out onto it) and thus the Marques de Pombal metro. As such it's a 20-25 minute walk to the Rossio and a 35 minute walk back. Bus 22 to the airport is a further half block away, while bus 727 (which goes to Belem in 30 minutes) is literally across the street. Notwithstanding all this, I found it relatively quiet - the noisiest thing I heard at night was rain.
Rooms: As I was staying with the rest of my family, I was able to see what both double and single rooms looked like. My single room had a queen-sized bed that more or less dominated it, along with a desk, closet, and small flat-screen TV. The bed itself was comfortable. There was remote controlled air conditioning and heating. The bathroom had a hair dryer and was unremarkable except for the fact that the shower/bath had a glass wall for half of its length, rather than a shower curtain, which everyone in my family found was ineffective as a curtain. The double rooms had two single beds pushed together and slightly more space.
Service: While the people serving breakfast were extremely polite and the rooms were cleaned adequately each day (although not changed as much as one would expect in such an establishment), the service was as a whole very disappointing. Considering both how kind, helpful, and proficient in English most people I met in Portugal were, it seems odd to me that the people at the front desk were extremely unhelpful. For example, they were unsure of the price or duration of a trip to the airport by cab (surely I wasn't the first person to ask this question) and were unable to provide any information on restaurants that were open for Christmas dinner even though one was located at the hotel literally next door. They were not rude, just neither helpful or knowledgable. In addition, it took serveral days for them to get a light fixed in my parents room and everyone in my family had some problem or other with their key-cards.
Over all, I would recommend Hotel Florida if you can get a good rate, considering its superb location and comfortable, though unexceptional rooms.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 2, 2010
Sterling Hotel Florida
Rua Duque De Palmela 34
Walking in Central Lisbon On Your OwnDespite having been built on seven hills (which makes for some steep climbs) Lisbon is an extremely enjoyable city to walk around, provided you start at the top, rather than the bottom, of the hills in question. If you keep in mind that Lisbon's historic center essentially lies in a valley that slopes down to the Tagus River, you can turn its varying elevations to your advantage by walking downhill and then taking Lisbon's efficient and inexpensive metro back uphill.
A particularly good place to start is at Parque Eduardo VII, which you can access from the Parque Metro Station, which offers excellent views over Central Lisbon's skyline. You can walk straight through its center or dawdle along the manicured hedges, but however you go you'll eventually reach the Marques de Pombal traffic circle (which has a metro station of the same name underneath it), from here you can walk down Avenida da Liberdade. The walk along the right side (as you face away from the circle) is more pleasant, but as the buildings on this side are more interesting you may prefer to walk down the left side. This terminates in Praca Pedro IV, Lisbon's main square, which is universally known as the "Rossio" and which contains a metro station of the same name. If you continue straight from here you'll pass through the Baixa, the planned center of the city that was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. Just beyond it (through a triumphal arch) is the Praca do Comercio, although this is currently being refurbished so you'll have to walk along the arcades at its sides to reach the Tagus which is located across Avenida Infante Dom Henrique. The Terreiro do Paco metro station is located beneath the Praca do Comercio.
The streets on the hills on either side of the city center are less orderly but are even more enjoyable to explore, provided you don't mind meandering. The Chiado and Bairro Alto are best reached by either the Baixa/Chiado Metro Station (take the Largo do Chiado exit, which is four escalators below street levels) or the trams on Gloria or Santa Justa. The Alfama is best reached via Tram 28, which can be caught either from Rua Conceicao in the Baixa or from just beyond the top of Rua Garrett in the Bairro Alto/Chiado. Get out at the Santa Luzia stop for the best views!
Walking with "Walks in Lisbon"One of the joys of exploring Central Lisbon, and travel generally, is discovering unusual things for yourself for the first time. No matter how thorough your guidebook is, it likely won't do justice to the simultaneously majestic and slightly dilapitated feel of Central Lisbon, which feels at some times like a set for an old movie that has drifted into obscurity. However, it can help to have some guidance and for the somewhat hefty fee of €15, the company Lisbon Walker offers just that for a range of two hour walking tours. I can only comment on their Lisbon Old Town tour, which explores part of the riverfront and the Alfama, but if the cost fits in your budget I’d certainly recommend it on that basis alone. As well as the intrinsic enjoyability of the tour, the guides also dispense the kind of opinionated local advice on where to eat, go out, and drink that the tourist office doesn’t (I suppose in the interest of being fair to all the city’s establishments.) They’re also happy to answer more generally cultural questions that aren’t necessarily germane to the tour itself, something I personally find extremely helpful.
What I particularly appreciated about the tour was that unlike others that I’ve been on elsewhere, it specifically offered information that isn’t generally found in guidebooks as well as taking a more backstreets route than I would have on my own. For example, Jose, our guide, explained that when the Portuguese reconquered the city from the Moors, they targeted the Visigothic Christians for much greater persecution than the Jews or Muslims. Similarly, he noted that many of the "ruins" of the Castle of Sao Jorge (St. George) overlooking the city were actually put there in the 1940s by the Salazar dictatorship as a way to instill pride in Portugal’s glorious past. He further explained that the supposedly "medieval" Alfama actually fell victim (along with most of the rest of the city) to the 1755 Earthquake, but was rebuilt in a haphazard manner because property lines were respected there. If getting this sort of unvarnished history appeals to you, I couldn’t recommend the tour more highly, and even if it doesn’t, I’d still recommend it as it’s informative, enjoyable, and not terribly strenuous.
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