Lisbon and its attractions

Lisbon and its attractions


Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MALUSE on August 29, 2009

All the peoples that were on the move in historic times were interested in the site of Lisbon, it may be a myth that Ulysses discovered it, but there is proof that the Phoenicians did at around 5000 BC, they called their colony ‘Alis Ubbo’- ‘lovely little port’. Later the Romans, the Visigoths and Moorish conquerors from North Africa came, the latter stayed for 300 years (some Portuguese have Arabic features), in 1147 King Alfonso succeeded in driving them back with the help of Crusaders (occasionally one sees tall and blond Portuguese) to say nothing of the Spanish and French occupation.

The 16th century saw the real beginning of Lisbon as it is today, Portuguese navigators sailed round the world bringing back gold and diamonds from South America (today Brazil), slaves and ivory from Africa (Angola and Mozambique), silk and spices from India (Goa) to mention the most important places making the city and the country unbelievably rich.

One would assume that architectural gems mirror the former wealth, that the city is full of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings as is the case with so many other rich cities in Europe, alas, that is not the case. Tourists interested in ticking off sights in the afore mentioned styles are disappointed, they realise that they’ve come too late, in fact they should have come before 1st November, 1755 when an earthquake lasting nine minutes and a following tsunami destroyed most of the city; from what I’ve read I get the impression that this date is one of the - if not the - most important dates in the history of modern Lisbon.

We began our first day walking from our hotel, Sana Executive, Rua Conde Valbom, (when we knew the layout of the city we always took the underground, clean, on time, cheap [for us]) to the big round Praça (place) Marquês de Pombal with an enormous monument in the middle showing a male figure with a lion at his side; Pombal, foreign minister to King José I, was responsible for the reconstruction of the city after the earthquake. Uphill is the 500m long geometrically laid out park Edoardo VII, downhill the wide and elegant Avenida da Liberdade leading to the part of the city that shows Pombal’s planning hand, the Cidade Baixa (low city), a grid of rectangular streets, a modern concept for the 18th century.

The Rua Augusta is a pedestrian precinct with mostly expensive shops on either side and open-air cafés in the middle, from there we got through a triumphal arc to the Praça do Comércio. A big equestrian statue of King José looks out at the river Tejo passing Lisbon for 30 km before it flows into the Atlantic, its mouth is between 3 to 17 km wide so that one has a feeling of the sea in the city; unfortunately a direct access to the bank is not possible due to a busy motorway.

Standing on the Praça do Comércio and looking back at the city one can see the Castle Saõ Jorge on a hill to the right, the quarter beneath is the Alfama, the oldest part of the city, not destroyed by the earthquake and full of narrow and crooked alleyways with washinglines spanning between the houses. A tram goes up to the castle which many tourists take just for the fun of it, walking up is not so hard as the guide-books describe, though.

We passed the cathedral. Begun in 1147 on the remains of a mosque in Romanesque style it hasn´t changed much through the centuries, no Renaissance frescoes or Baroque religious knick-knack adorn the bare grey sandstone walls to show off the incredible wealth Portugal had accumulated, after all it’s the most important religious building in the capital of a former empire. Very modest, the Portuguese!

From the back end of the right nave one can visit the cloister where Roman remains are being excavated, one has to buy a ticket to see them. My guidebook told me that the reconstruction work after the earthquake (in 1755!) is nearly finished. Not the fastest, the Portuguese!

The outer walls of the castle have been reconstructed, the inside is empty, i.e., there are no buildings, one of the inner yards has a stage for concerts and a self-service open-air restaurant (we saw two other restaurants on the premises). I noticed a steep flight of stairs leading to the top of the wall and suggested to my husband we climb up there to have an even better view of the city, the river Tejo, the 2287m long suspension bridge and the Rio de Janeiro-like statue of Christ on the opposite bank of the river. The moment I had reached the top I knew I had to get back down at once, I hadn’t looked properly from below, the inner wall was only knee high, the outer one was high enough but consisted of a row of pinnacles with wide openings and no railings anywhere.

Tourist interested in shopping go to the Bairro Alto (high quarter) opposite the castle hill, an area which is a bit elegant but not too much. Lisbon is rather shabby, many façades want painting, the pavements all over the city are covered with small square cobble stones and you won’t find 100m without a hole so that you always have to look down in order not to stumble and fall. It’s not dirty, though, on the contrary, hardly any dogs around, in one week I didn’t see more than 15 (and not a single cat!), so hardly any dog poop, hardly any graffiti on the walls, the underground spick and span although with the exception of junctions all stations are without staff (there are automatic ticket machines). Lisbon is obviously poor but well kept, it exudes the charme of having seen better days.

What else is there to do? Portugal has about 10 million inhabitants, one fifth of whom live in Greater Lisbon, yet the city centre is not big, one day is enough to see it including a museum. We abstained from visiting one on our first day, we preferred sitting at the tables in front of the Pastelaria Suiça (pastry shop, Lisbon is full of pastelarias, the pastry is excellent!) on the central place Rossio in the Baixa watching the Portuguese world pass by. We saw only few tourists, conventionally and still winterly dressed Portuguese, noticed many black Africans from the former colonies, street musicians played for us, beggars wanted money.

On the following day we went to Belém, approximately 10 km from the centre, the quarter of the city on the bank of the river Tejo from where the ships of the Portuguese seadogs started. The tram leaves from Praça do Comércio. The three sights of Belém are the tower built in 1516 to protect the harbour and (from the guidebook) ‘the strikingly modern monument praising the discoveries rising dramatically above the river, the streamlined prow of an explorer’s caravel with Prince Henry the Navigator symbolically heading a crowd of famous figures from that rich and golden era of Portuguese history’ and the Jerónimo Monastery built by King Manuel I in the 16th century in honour of Vasco da Gama who had discovered the seaway to India, it´s late Gothic with lavish decoration in the so-called Manueline style.

We visited the adjacent Museu de Marinha, very educative and enjoyable with models of the sailing ships of the explorers, one had a door in the side of the ship out of which a plank came, across which a sailor was leading a horse, the explorer Albuquerche had transported horses from Persia to India. We saw also nautical instruments, weapons from cannons to torpedos and captains’ uniforms through the ages. The last hall houses real life size boats, the most luxurious is the Royal Barge built in 1780 which was rowed by 78 oarsmen, her last task was to transport Queen Elizabeth II on her state visit to Portugal in 1956.

With Belém ‘done’ one has seen what is Lisbon famous for, if one stays longer than two or three days it is to see the towns along the coast or in the hinterland, if the weather is favourable, the tourist can easily and pleasurably fill a week.

What about the night life in Lisbon? The thing to do is to go to the Casas de Fado, restaurants with Fado singing and guitar playing. ‘Fado’ comes from the Latin word fatum = fate, generally sad and melancholy songs sung with heartbreaking fervour. I would have loved to hear them, but the performances begin at midnight and after a day out walking we just couldn’t add a night out. West of the train station Cais de Sodré is a row of old warehouses transformed into top restaurants, shops and discos, one shouldn’t go there before 2 am!

Adeus! (A – da – oosh, stress on the second syllable), Bye-bye!

Internacional Design Hotel, Lisbon

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MALUSE on December 15, 2010


More central is not possible. My husband and I had been to Lisbon before and knew the layout of the city. We decided that this time we didn’t want to use the underground, bus or tram to get to the centre, so we opted for a hotel in the Baixa, the low part of the city, which constitutes the centre. The Internacional Design Hotel is at the corner of Rua Bellesga and Rua Augusta, the main artery of the city centre. It runs from the Rossio Square to the PraVa di Comercio which opens up to the river Teide. It’s a pedestrian precinct throughout with small elegant shops on either side. Nightlife is elsewhere, when the shops close, the pavements are rolled up (as the Germans say). The traffic round the Rossio Square isn’t heavy at night, double-glazed windows and earplugs help the tired-out tourist to sleep well.

**The building**

I haven’t found a date, my guess is that the building is more than a hundred years old, the facade has some nice Art Deco elements. The International Design Hotel inside is rather new and modern, it belongs to a group of ‘small luxury hotels of the world’. It has 54 rooms on four floors.

The front door opens directly to the small reception area. We found the young staff friendly and efficient. Occasionally there’s even someone who opens the door for the entering or exiting guests, a rather old-fashioned gesture in these surroundings. The main colour of the interior is violet, from the ties of the receptionists to the glass panel in front of the (slow) lift, which is lit by violet light bulbs underneath, to the carpet on the stairs.

The Design hotel has four concepts, the ground floor is Urban, the second floor Tribe, the third floor Zen, the fourth floor Pop. On the fifth floor are XL rooms of 22 m² with a veranda overlooking Rua August and Rossio Square. I couldn’t find out in which style they’re decorated.

In the hotel brochure each concept is described in breathless ad speak, for example Urban:
"Inspired by the rhythm of large cities.
Fast! Pace.
Music, house, techno.
Contrasts, straight lines and forms,
Metals, strong colours.
Dark. Stop!"

One can find this either poetic or poor English. You decide.

**Our room**

We had room 302 on the Zen floor. It has 17 m² which according to the hotel list is size L. It was fine for us, but we’d rate the size average to small, certainly not L. Apart from the white bed linen the colours are: brown, stone grey and off white, quite soothing for the eye. The only bright spot is the neon green toilet paper in the bathroom.

The door is opened with a card key. The only way to close it from the outside is to pull it hard which isn’t possible without a loud noise. One can be lucky if only few rooms are occupied on the corridor and the other guests aren’t night owls who return drunk and noisy late at night.

To the right of the door is a built-in wardrobe with sliding doors in dark brown (like the rest of the furniture) with real coat hangers and not the usual un-stealable hotel variety. It contains a vault. Beside it stands a small rack for *one* suitcase although the room has twin beds and is clearly meant for two people. Above it hangs a long mirror. Next comes a desk with a coffee maker and a small lamp (with a weak light bulb) on it, a mini bar under it and one chair in front of it. Between the desk and the door to the tiny balcony overlooking Rua Augusta stands one small armchair, two people are not meant to sit comfortably in this room.

The mattresses are comfy, yet the beds are too high. Odd in a country where the average person is rather short legged. I’m tall, my legs are long, yet I can’t put my feet on the floor when sitting on the bed. Anyone trying to tie their shoe laces there would topple over and land head-on on the carpet. The lamps beside the headrests have bright bulbs but are too far away so that reading in bed is impossible. The brightest spot in the room is the 1,5 m wide space between the door of the room and the door to the bathroom. For unknown reasons it’s brightly lit by two spotlights in the ceiling. One person can move the armchair there and read holding a book up towards the spotlights in the ceiling, certainly an odd arrangement.

Now to the bathroom. Strangely "Zen makes us live in the world as if walking in the garden of Eden. D.T. Suzuki" is written on the wall *above* the toilet bowl and not on the wall opposite so that one could meditate on the sentence while sitting there. Two railings on either side of the bowl show that this room is equipped for handicapped guests. This is positive, yet the bathroom has also several negative points. The room on either side of the wash basin is very narrow, one has to put one’s things on the shelf beneath it, not very convenient. I wonder if ever a guest has used the black rubber flip-flops standing there. Athlete’s foot is sending its regards! The washbasin is too high. The shower head is fixed to the wall, there is no tube, so it’s not possible to only wash one’s feet should one wish to do so. Putting a foot into the wash-basin requires the aptitude of a circus acrobat and is not risk free. Why there’s only one hook for the towels of two people remains a mystery. (Guests on other floors with different concepts had also only one hook). No glasses for tooth-brushes are offered, one has to take the ones standing on the desk beside a bottle of welcome water.

The most negative item, however, is the 0.5 - 1 cm wide gap between the opaque glass door of the bathroom and the surrounding frame. I’m sure that even the most intimate couples are not interested in each others’ aural and olfactory emissions. The other guests we asked had well-fitting doors.

**Breakfast room and bar**

Both are assets to the hotel. The breakfast is a self-serving affair, it’s of good quality and enough to strengthen a tourist for the day. The crockery is stylish, the cutlery tiny, someone must have had dwarfs in mind when designing it. Friendly young people help when help is needed and clear away and lay the tables. The bar in front of the breakfast room has comfy armchairs and sofas and also a rather well lit area where reading is possible.

**Final thoughts**

The prices for the rooms as listed at the reception are outrageously high. Our room costs 400 Euro a night! I wonder who pays such a price. We booked four nights at the beginning of October through a travel agency and paid 125 Euro per night which is just adequate in our opinion. Would we go again? Yes, any time, but only if we get the same rate and an L room overlooking the street (the S rooms open to the inner courtyard). Well, and a bathroom door without gaps would also be fine.

Internacional Design Hotel
Rua da Betesga, 3
Lisbon, Portugal, 1100-090
351 213 240 990

Sana Executive Hotel

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MALUSE on November 20, 2010

When travelling abroad I don't book hotels online, I somehow don't trust myself, what if something goes wrong? I need someone to blame , so I go to a travel agency I can trust, they do their job well, up to now there has been no need to blame them!

When we went to Lisbon at Easter three years ago, they found the Sana Executive Hotel *** for us for the special offer of four nights for the price of three meaning that the double room cost 70 € a night (including breakfast) instead of 160 € (without breakfast, breakfast costs 8 € extra), I‘m sure that was a good deal and I couldn‘t have found a better one myself.

The hotel is about a quarter of an hour away from the airport by car, i.e., the planes can be heard but they didn‘t disturb us, the windows are good and keep most of the noise out and then, Lisbon airport is not Heathrow, there‘s not one plane after the other.

We arrived at midnight and found a friendly man at the reception desk who gave us the key to a room on the 7th floor. There‘s one non-smoker floor (the second), but he didn‘t ask us if we wanted to have a non-smoker room, the one we got, didn‘t smell, though.

The hotel has only one lift which is not good for a house with 10 floors and 72 rooms, I‘m willing to walk up three floors but not more and the lift is a small one, comfortable only for four grown-ups. This is my opinion, other people think differently and when they see three people already standing in the lift, push in nevertheless with, say, two suitcases and five bags. In such a case I get out to the great astonishment of the other passengers at the floor where this happens although it‘s clear that it’s not my destination and wait for the lift to come up again – which is quite some time in the Sana Hotel, it‘s so slow!

As it seems to be the case in all hotels from three stars down the door of the room opens directly into the room, i.e., there is no hall between the corridor and the room proper with a second door to keep out the noise. We were lucky, we only had quiet neighbours and, of course, we had our earplugs with us! Stepping in one finds the bathroom to the left, small but with all the necessary facilities, hair dryer, some toilet articles (soap, shower gel, tissues), new towels every day. The seat of the toilet bowl looked a bit worn, the covering finish was getting off in places.

From the space in front of the bathroom which is 2,50m x 1m one steps into the room proper which has the dimension of 3m x 4m, directly to the left covering the wall of the bathroom is an enormous wardrobe with sliding doors covered with mirrors containing the type of coat hangers all hotels have of the variety guests don‘t steal because they can‘t use them at home but which always fall off the hooks, a mini bar and a safe. For the safe one has to pay 2,50 € a day and leave a deposit of 10 € which are given back on the check out day. Air conditioning, Cable TV, Radio, direct dial telephone, it‘s all there.

The furniture is fake art deco in dark wood with metal decorations, I quite liked it. The beds are comfortable, the mattresses perfect; I‘m not a good sleeper, but I slept very well indeed at Sana (the word means healthy!), in fact one night I slept for unbelievable 10 hours without interruption, what more can one want. The Portuguese are a small people but not so small that they could check their hairstyles in the large mirror hanging on the wall opposite the beds, I could not see my collar bone, to say nothing of my face!

In front of the window covering the whole wall are two tables with a chair each and the rack for the suitcases between them. The big asset are the movable bedside lamps with bright enough light bulbs so that reading in bed is possible, something I‘ve never found before, not even in a four star hotel.

The room looked clean and we saw the cleaning ladies at work every day, however, when I missed my biro, I only found it two days later lying on the carpet under the curtains of the window, what does this tell us? Well, it didn‘t bother me too much to be honest, do I use the vacuum cleaner at home every day? No, I don‘t.

Now, down to the breakfast room which is on the ground floor opposite the main entrance and behind the reception area at the end of a corridor (where there‘s also a loo in case one doesn‘t want to go up to the rooms), in fact it is the end of the corridor, there‘s no door closing it off; if all the 72 hotel rooms are occupied , it‘s definitely too small. We were there at Easter and the house was quite full, people had to queue for some time until they could find a seat. This is not nice for the people that have to wait but not nice for the ones eating, either, I don‘t feel good if I know that others are looking at me thinking, ´Why can‘t she eat a bit faster?´

One wall of the breakfast room is made of glass with a door leading into a patio with a palm tree. I saw some tables and chairs there and thought why not wait outside instead of standing around, so I went out but didn‘t get far, I banged my head against the glass pane, I hadn‘t realised that the door was closed! None of the guests and waitresses blinked an eye, either because they were polite or because they were used to catastrophes. The tablecloths were all of superproportional dimensions hanging down over the sides and even touching the floor, I was waiting for someone to trip on them bringing crockery and cutlery down to get my share of self-made catastrophes, but in vain, during the week we stayed there nothing of that kind happened.

They have a self-service buffet there, not exceptionally rich but with much more food than I would ever like to eat for breakfast, one can have everything from müsli to hot sausages, I don‘t think anybody went away hungry.

The hotel doesn‘t have any sports facilities (why should tourists go to Lisbon and then spend their time in the workout room?), there are two function rooms for conferences on the top floors where up to 70 people can meet. The entrance area has a kind of lobby where people can sit and watch TV or have a drink from the bar. Internet access is possible on request, private parking is offered and disabled facilities available.

The Sana Executive Hotel is situated in the new quarters of Lisbon, very close to the most important business and shopping areas, it takes five minutes on foot to reach the underground station Sao Sebastian from where it is about seven minutes to downtown Lisbon. Just above the underground station is the enormous shopping centre El Corte Ingles with a supermarket and a very good self-service restaurant. The world famous Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is also only five minutes away on foot.

We had booked for four nights but wanted to stay for seven nights in Portugal, we didn‘t know if we wanted to stay the whole time in Lisbon or travel around a bit. We decided to stay and do tours to the surrounding sights, so we asked if we could stay for the same favourable conditions we had got through the German travel agency. We could.

Recommended? Definitely!

Sana Executive Hotel
Avenida Conde Valbon 56
Lisbon, Portugal
351 21 7951157

Fish Restaurant in Barreiro, Lisbon

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MALUSE on August 29, 2009

When we were in Lisbon at Easter we decided one day to cross the river Tejo by ferry, we had read in the guidebook that there were good fish restarants on the southern bank. We went to a ferry station where we saw a large map of the area on the wall, two ferry lines were drawn to the opposite bank, we opted for the longer one in order to enjoy the ferry ride a bit longer.

The man behind the ticket counter was very surprised when we named the destination, he got out of his booth, went with us back to the map and told us that we certainly did not want to go there (we could follow his Portuguese explanation), we were tourists and there was nothing, nada, to see for tourists, we wanted to go to Cacilhas where the fish restaurants are, we nodded gratefully, this man was a mind reader!

He said that the tickets for Cacilhas could only be bought in the neighbouring ferry station, so we went over there and I told the woman at the counter in my best Portuguese ‘two tickets, please’ and made a to-and-fro movement with my hand. Without saying a word she gave me two tickets for 1.30 Euro each. We didn’t look at the tickets but went to the aerea where other passengers were waiting and boarded the ferry with them.

When the ferry landed after a short ride of about 10 minutes we were puzzled, this was the touristy place with the excellent fish restaurants? We could only see a big street behind the ferry station, a bus terminal and blocks and blocks of council housing. Something was fishy! We approached a man who turned out to have worked in Germany and could speak German, he explained that we were in Barreiro, not in Cacilhas, we had taken the wrong ferry; I looked at the tickets, indeed, ‘Barreiro’ was printed on them! We learnt that it was a dormitory town for Lisbon and an ugly place throughout, certainly there were no fish restaurants or at least none of the kind we were thinking of (the second Portuguese who knew what we wanted!). Where there any restaurants at all? Yes, there were, the man waved in the general direction of the town centre and said we would pass some simple ones if went there.

We crossed the big street and turned left into the Rua Recosta, walked on for another 50 m until we came to a restaurant called ‘A Cozinha d’ Avó’´, we spotted the word ‘bacalhau’ (cod) on the menu written with chalk on a blackboard standing in a shop-window and went in.

It’s a one-room restaurant with ten tables for two people each, opposite the window covering the whole length of the room a door leads into the kitchen (if one wants to go to the bathroom one has to go through the kitchen), it’s open so that the guests can see what the cook is doing.

The restaurant is run by a couple in their forties, the woman cooks and her husband serves the guests or stands behind the counter in front of the left wall serving as a bar. When we came in a woman was sitting at a table, later when we were eating a man came but left after a short time, on the whole we had the place and the couple’s attention to ourselves.

The woman speaks a little English, not much really, but more than we speak Portuguese! She told us in a mixture of both languages what was on offer, we understood that there were two fish dishes, we couldn’t decide which one to choose as we didn’t understand how the fish was prepared, she used the word ‘cake’ a lot, but ‘fish cake’ was nothing we’d ever heard of. She suggested we order both and share, well, that sounded reasonable so we nodded our agreement.

We ordered half a litre of white house wine and some mineral water, the man brought us bread, butter and olives as is done in all Portuguese restaurants to keep the guests from becoming impatient and too hungry. After some time he served us four tiny fried squid with garlic (chocos ao alhinho [before we left the woman wrote down for me what we had eaten]) as starters; we couldn’t remember her mentioning starters but we were content to start this way. Squid is called ‘inkfish’in German, it was clear why, when I cut them open the plate was black! They tasted very good and occupied us until the woman came with a plate of four codburgers, that was what she had called ‘cake’ in English. The cod was boiled and then mashed with spices, crumbed and fried (pataniscas de bacalhau), the side dish was rice and beans. Yummy!

While we were eating my husband and I were wondering if we had misunderstood the woman before, hadn’t she talked of two different dishes we should share? Well, never mind, two codburgers each were more than enough. We were finishing our wine and leaning back contentedly when the woman came in again carrying the other dish! Bacalhau = cod again, of course, Portugal couldn’t exist without it, it comes from Iceland and Norway and is THE national dish, in a book we read that there were as many different ways of preparing it as days of the year, no, the woman said laughingly, there were only one hundred different ways!

What we got now was a boiled fish fillet with the bones still inside, it was the end piece of the fish with boiled potatoes (the Portuguese eat a lot of potatoes and not much pasta, a boiled egg and chickpeas, parsley and raw garlic cut into small pieces came as a side dish (bacalhau cozido com batata, ovo cozido e grão); where could we put all this?, we were full already! We ordered another half litre of wine in order to make the food go down more easily and set to work.

The woman had done her job in the kitchen and sat down at our table to talk with us, the husband who can’t speak English hovering in the background. We had already noticed that the Portuguese have nothing, nothing whatsoever, in common with their Romanic neighbours when it comes to temperament – in public they’re quiet, reserved, serious, a bit sad and melancholy, well-behaved, here in this kitchen-restaurant we got as near to the private people as was possible for tourists and met very friendly and open specimen. My husband got up and embraced the woman congratulating her on her cooking, she rather liked that outburst of Mediterranean temperament!

Of course, we had to have coffee after so much food, when we had drunk it and it was clear that we had reached the end of our feast, the man brought us two glasses of Moscatel de Setúbal, a rosé kind of wine, as a present.

We hadn’t asked what the dishes cost before we started eating, it didn’t seem appropriate to do so, we had the feeling we wouldn´t be cheated here. When the bill came we couldn’t believe it: 17 Euro ( ~ 24,30 $) for the two of us!

After a lot of shaking hands and hugging we left the restaurant, arm in arm in order not to zigzag too much on the way back to the ferry station thinking that taking the wrong ferry was the best mistake we had ever made concerning restaurants and decided that – should we ever go back to Lisbon – we would intentionally go to:

A Cozinha d’Avó (in English: grandmother’s cuisine)
Rua Recosta 5a
Barreiro / Lisbon

A Cozinha d’Avó
Rua Recosta 5a - Barreiro

Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, Portugal

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MALUSE on November 19, 2010

Third time lucky! My husband and I always travel with a guidebook and like reading it before we start as well as on the spot, but somehow we managed to overlook the mention of the most famous bakery of Lisbon, the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, Rua de Belém 84-82, during our first two stays in the city, or we didn’t take the praise heaped on it seriously. When a tourist couple in our hotel raved enthusiastically about it, we decided to finally have a look. Belém is a suburb of Lisbon and can easily be reached by bus, tram or train, a taxi ride from the centre costs about 6 Euro. It’s to the right (across the street) of the Mosteiro dos Jéronimos (Jeronimos Monastery), which is a must for all tourists to Lisbon and therefore easy to find.

At the beginning of the 19th century when the story of the now famous pastelaria (bakery) started, Belém was far away from Lisbon and could only be reached by boat. The village had a sugar cane refinery which also contained a general store. When in 1820 all monasteries and convents were closed in Portugal due to the liberal revolution, someone from the adjacent Jeronimos Monastery had the idea of taking sweet pastries to the shop and offer them for sale to earn some money. People from the city who used to visit Belém to admire the beauty of the monastery and the Tower of Belém soon took to savouring the pastries in the store.

It must be said that the ‘Pasteis de Belém’ can also be bought in the pastelarias of Lisbon (the city is full of pastelarias!), but they’re not the real thing as we now know. They’re sold warm but they’re warmed up and that’s not the same as them coming fresh out of the oven.

The Antiga Confeitaria is rather inconspicuous from the outside although it now occupies two houses. One could walk by if there weren’t a queue of people spilling out of the right entrance of the shop onto the pavement. They either buy pastries to take away in special cardboard containers or eat them standing at the counter where they can also get coffee. On the walls beside the counter all the items which can also be bought are on display, crockery with the logo, wine, packed sweets, knickknack.

Customers wanting to sit inside enter through the left door. A wonderful flavour of cinnamon hits our nostrils when we get in, yummy! There are some small rooms behind the counter whose walls are covered with tiles depicting Belém in the Age of Discoveries in the early 1600s. Their tables and chairs are always occupied when we come. So we move further into the building(s) and reach an immense room, the size of a school gym. The German couple from our hotel was even reminded of the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. A waiter tells us that they can sit 510 customers in all rooms! I think that German and Austrian tourists are especially puzzled because they come from countries with a vibrant Café culture. When they think of Cafés, the German word ‘gemütlich’ comes to mind. It’s usually translated with ’cosy’ but it’s not exactly the same, so the Americans have included gemütlich into their vocabulary. Here cosiness is the last thing that comes to mind! One tourists writes on the net, "The place is mobbed from morning till night, seven days a week, by tourists and locals alike." (It’s open daily from 8:00 to midnight). And yet . . .

Even in November the gym-size room is more than half full, the customers are nearly all Portuguese. Although the Portuguese are the quietest Romanic people, the noise level is considerable. A menu offers not only sweet things but most people eat pastries, or rather Pasteis de Belém. Most drink cappuccino or milk coffee with them, one old Portuguese lady I see at a neighbouring table, however, has hers with a glass of beer. Well, "de gustibus non est disputandum", you can’t argue about taste, as the Romans used to say. Most people order two pasteis, one costs 90 cent.

The famous pastries/pasteis are custard tarts which are served fresh out of the oven. On the tables stand two tin containers with cinnamon and icing sugar which one has to sprinkle over them before the first bite. The outside is made of flaky pastry which is hot and crispy, the vanilla pudding inside is just heavenly. On average 14 000 pasteis are made every day, all work is done by hand as in the olden days, no modern machinery is used. And the certain something that makes them so special and better than all other pasteis of Portugal is still being kept secret, only the two head bakers know it.

I found an elaborate recipe on the net but am not going to include it, you’d never reach the real thing, not even from afar. I certainly wouldn’t want to eat it, after tasting the real thing I can’t eat an ersatz pastry any more. For those among you who don’t know the real thing yet: there is no other way but to go to Lisbon and visit the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. Get to know Pastry Paradise!

Antiga Confeitaria de Belem
Rua De Belem 84-92
Lisbon, Portugal

Museo do Oriente

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MALUSE on February 9, 2011

Lisbon has a lot of shabby grandeur. This is not the place to tell you why the grandeur has became shabby but where it came from, at least in parts. A visit to the Museo do Oriente (Orient Museum or Museum of the Far East) provides some answers.

It’s located in the port area, next to a yacht marina, between the main road and the railway line and the river Tejo. The address is Av. Brasília, Doca de Alcántara, it can be reached by public transport, the buses 12, 28, 714, 73, 738, the trams 15E, 18 E and the trains to Cascais stop there (station Alcántara). Open 10am-6pm (closed Tuesdays), 10am-10pm on Fridays. The admission is reduced for tourists holding a LisboaCard. The museum is wheelchair friendly.

The museum opened only in 2008, the six-storey concrete structure was used to store bacalhau (dried cod) before it was turned into a museum with show rooms, an auditorium, a restaurant on the top floor, a cafeteria and a shop on the lower level. An educational centre offers courses in Asian cooking and culture. Temporary exhibitions on different topics are shown on the ground floor, the Museo do Oriente proper occupies the first and the second floor.

I knew already that Portugal had been a maritime power in the 16th century with overseas possessions in Asia (and in South America, but logically, this part of Portuguese history is not dealt with in the Museum *do Oriente*). What I did not know, however, was that the Portuguese didn’t sail to far away places, conquer them and carry home whatever precious goods they could lay their hands on to enrich Crown and Fatherland. No, the Portuguese arrived in Japan in 1543 and then established trade routes in the far East. The Japanese coined the phrase ‘Nauban trade’, Nauban meaning ‘Southern barbarians’. The Portuguese shipped goods from one far away country to another without touching base in Portugal. Of course, they got rich this way; what did they do with their wealth? The Asians, wisely, never allowed them to really get into the country and settle there, the Japanese even excluded them from further trading in 1641. In China they were restricted to Macau, in India to Goa. They could only take their wealth back to Portugal and show it off there - if they hadn’t died on the seven seas before.

A gilded screen depicts a ship, Portuguese traders and Japanese dignitaries, which is like an illustration of a history lesson. Wherever Portuguese sailors and tradesmen were allowed to settle, for example in Macau, Jesuit missionaries could be found as well. This review is not the place to discuss what good they did there to the indigenous population - if any at all. Another screen with biblical scenes shows that the Asians interpreted Christian stories their way, I hadn’t seen the Holy Family with Asian features and clothes set in an Asian landscape before. But then the Holy Family is black in Africa.

From the net, "Visitors with poor night vision might want to watch their steps in the galleries which are kept dark to show off objects in the illuminated display cases." The positive effect of this arrangement is that the exhibits really look wonderful. Chinese folding screens, costumes, jewellery, snuff boxes, religious statues, vases, paintings - you name it - from Goa, China, Japan, East Timor and other Portuguese outposts or trading areas from the 1500-1900s are clearly laid out in the showcases and lit with spot lights to show their beauty.

The negative effect is that the explanations in Portuguese and (correct) English are often hardly decipherable because they aren’t lit with an extra light. That is very negative indeed, especially as the museum doesn’t have audio guides, not even in Portuguese. Not that I could understand the language, but it’s a shame in my opinion. On the one hand 30 million Euro were invested for the conversion of the building into a museum whose annual costs for staff and maintenance must also be considerable. Where does the money come from? I bet it’s tax money, and then the visitors who’ve paid for the museum so-to-speak can only get glimpses of information should they decide to pay the museum a visit.

The exhibition on the second floor has the title ‘Gods of Asia’, it explores religion and mythology through costumes, masks, paintings, statues, 13,000 objects all in all. I didn’t find it so fascinating because it lacks the obvious reference to the Portuguese history of exploration, trade and Christian missionary work, topics I’m more interested in.

Despite my niggles I can recommend a visit if you’re in Lisbon and have some free time left.
Museu do Oriente
Avenida Brasalia, Doca De Alcantara (Norte)
Lisbon, Portugal
(351) 213 585 244

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