Lisboa Iluminada – Christmas Lights

If you’re thinking of visiting Lisbon, but not sure whether it’s worth it during the Christmas period, what with the cold and all, hopefully this post will give you all a bit of encouragement. There are markets and stalls selling everything from the usual farturas (think churros, but stuffed with chocolate, cream or strawberry sauce), to wines, to ginjinha (pleasantly warming on a cold night!), to local craft beer. And lots more besides.

A couple of years ago, one of my first posts about living here was about the amazing Christmas light show that the local authorities put on in Terreiro do Paço. Well, they’re not doing that this year (as far as I know!) but it’s clear that they have been putting the revenue gained from the increased tourism here in Lisbon to good use, as there are some truly spectacular Christmas lights allover the downtown area of the city. Here are some to whet your appetite.

Beer: Fizzing Up From Under The Surface

Flavours are one of the strongest suits of this nation that I call home. Whether it’s the tangy, fishy taste of cuttlefish and its ink, a strong, robust Douro wine, or the fragrant aroma of aged chouriço, flambéed in aguardente, you’ll be hard pressed to visit Portugal without the gastronomy making an impression on you – for better or worse. “And what about the beer?” you might ask. Hmmm. Well, like much of southern Europe, beer in Portugal has served pretty much one single purpose over the past century and more. It’s cold, it’s light, it’s refreshing and it instantly makes you feel cool on the many long hot days. As for the flavour, it was something they never really thought about.

Staple Brews

Go to any bar or café in Portugal and ask for a beer and you will be presented with Super Bock o Sagres. The former is, in my view, superior by far and neither are as bad as the UK’s stock offerings of Carling and Fosters – perhaps the world’s worst beers outside of the USA. That being said, I can’t imagine anyone trying to tell me that Super Bock is the best beer in the world. Even if they work for Super Bock. In the past, both of these brands did make some attempt at introducing variety. Both have a black lager – Super Bock call theirs a stout, but it’s certainly not a stout – and they also had another range, based on northern or eastern European beers, called Sagres Bohemia and Super Bock Abadia. Both were better than the originals. Neither were particularly inspired.

Revolution

Then, in 2015, during my first winter here, something happened. A number of small scale breweries, up and down the country had been brewing beer for a year or two. Real beer. Beer with flavour. Beer with variety. But not that many folks had taken much notice. I hadn’t even heard of many of these purveyors and I’m a Brit who was sadly in need of some decent beer. But then, in January, Lisboa’s Camara Municipal put on an event in Santa Apolonia’s Feira de Ladrões called ‘The First Lisbon Winter Beer Festival.’ I’ll admit to feeling a small sense of scorn about it – how many could there possibly be? – I wondered. But along I went with a few friends and colleagues to check it out. What I found there was a huge surprise. There were around 45 beers, from nine or ten different breweries from up and down Portugal, many of which were excellent. There were enthusiastic owners and brewmasters, both from abroad with an interest in bringing real beer to Portugal and from within the country itself. I tried around ten to twelve beers and left with my eyes open to the growing trade and on the look out for more opportunities to try this growing trade.

Fast forward fourteen months to the second Lisbon beer festival, hosted at LX Factory in Alcanatara, over three days and the industry had exploded. In place of the dozen brewers from the first festival, we were presented with more than twenty – including one from Spain – and instead of 40 or so beers, we were offered more than a hundred. The number of visitors, too, had swelled immeasurably. I visited on two of the three days with friends and was seriously impressed by the number of people of all ages and backgrounds, coming to see what it was all about.

Beer me!

So where do you find all this beer? Well, in Lisbon there are plentiful options now. The supermarkets Continente, Jumbo and El Corte Ingles have committed to stocking a range of beers from smaller breweries, as well as the big boys now. Some of these are imports but, if you want to support local brewers, there’s a decent arrange in mid-sized markets and up. Three breweries are Lisbon based and offer tours of their facilities and tasting packages. Check out Dois Corvos and Oitava Colina – two of my absolute favourites and make a booking. You can also learn more about Musa, whose music themed brews are all excellent, but whose pilsner – Mick Lager – might just be the best lager I’ve ever tasted. And I lived in Poland, people. An honorable mention must find its way up the coast, too, to Mean Sardine, of the glorious Ericeira, whose beers are also great and who are really pushing the boundaries with experimental beverages – their recent Yellow Submarine-based, single hop IPA was astonishingly good.

If you don’t want o visit a brewery, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, there are also some establishments in Lisboa who are making a point of stocking excellent beer all of the time. You can find Oitava Colina’s beer on tap all year round at Trobadores, a medieval themed bar who also sell mead, cocktails and decent food and the daddy of beer halls in Lisbon, Lisbeer has to get a mention. They always have a wide variety on tap, as well as a huge raft of bottled beers from Portugal and around the world. The staff are knowledgeable and can recommend something for (almost) every palate, and they can usually provide you with a glass to match the beer you’re drinking. Finally, one of my favourite places to eat in Lisbon, Ground Burger, not only produce the best burgers I’ve eaten in my life to date, they also stock more than 70 craft beers, the majority of which are domestically produced. I’ll drink to that!

So, the next time you’re going for a beer with your friends in Lisbon, or even if you’re just visiting for a weekend, rather than taking that 1 euro imperial of bland fizzy stuff, why not reach deeper in to your pocket and have something you’ll really enjoy? Cheers! Saúde!

3 Gems You Might Miss if You Don’t Know Where to Look

It’s been a busy few weeks since the start of the school year, hence the radio silence here on umlisboetaingles.

Living and working with people who have, in many cases, been here a fair number of years, it always surprises me how many gems I manage to find that no-one I know has ever heard of. Recently, I’ve happened upon three such places, which I really think anyone living in, or simply visiting Lisbon, could well do with adding to their to-do lists.

1 – 1300 Taberna

Located in the ultra-hip LX Factory, 1300 Taberna is a restaurant offering a range of Portuguese and International cuisine, with the accent on an haute cuisine approach. The restaurant is tucked away in one of the buildings in the middle of the old factory complex and, personally, I had never heard of it. I found myself in the area with some friends who were visiting from England and decided to check it out. I was so pleased that I had done, that I went back with my fiancée four days later. On both occasions all present were bowled over by the food, while the decor, ambience and service are also top. For more information, take a look at the trip advisor entry, here.

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This slab of pork, with peas and ham, and morcela farofa was a prime example of why I went back so quickly

2 – Aromas e Temperos

The discovery of this one I owe to one of my favourite Lisbon instagrammers and foodies, a lad called Duarte. He seems to spend most of his time going to restaurants with the kind of food that makes me hungry even when I sleep and so, when he started visiting Aromas e Temperos every couple of weeks and posting pictures of sumptuous looking Portuguese Brazilian fusion food, I began following them and it was only a matter of time before I found myself there.

The food is delicious, plentiful and modestly priced, with a two-course lunch menu setting you back only 10 Euros, if you choose the prato do dia (dish of the day). I did just that on my first visit and found myself feeling well and truly stuffed with food that was delicious, substantial but also healthy (or not unhealthy, at least!) It’s also located very conveniently for most Lisboetas and visitors alike, just off Almirante Reis, near to the Arroios metro stop on the green line.

I’m told dinner is also great, so that’s next on my to do list. Learn more about the place here.

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Crispy coated fish with farofa and Brazilian style bean and bacon rice

3 – Café da Garagem

Nestled in behind the castle of St George in Lisbon’s ancient Alfama district, Café da Garagem is the basement floor of an artistic exhibition space, known as Quinta da Garagem. The exhibition space always has something interesting going on, be it in the form of sculpture, collage or even fashion exhibits. The real reason I come here though is to find a quiet place, usually on the open terrace looking out to the sprawling mass of decay and rejuvenation that is the Mouraria district, all the way up to Graca’s recently remodelled park and the cathedral.

It helps, of course, that this place does what I think is one of the best cappucinos in town, as well as imaginative and delicious toasts and some really indulgent, homemade cakes. The staff are always super friendly and helpful and there’s usually some nice music playing in there, making it both a great place to go with friends, and on other occasions, to lose yourself in a good book. You can find out more about it here.

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With Views Like These…

 

The Tower at Cascais

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s mainly because I’ve spent the summer in England where, incidentally, there isn’t really a summer. But just before I went away, I had a friend visiting me from Poland, and we went on some adventures. Some were further afield, while others were closer to home.

One such closer to home day out was in Cascais. Anyone who lives in and around Lisbon will know Cascais pretty well. It’s the little seaside resort at the end of the train line. A haven for expats and holiday makers from all over, it’s picturesque, the birthplace of the famous Santini ice cream parlours, and has a lovely, relaxed vibe to it.

However, one of my favourite parts of the city is the old citadel. Originally built in the 15th century, it was occupied by the Spanish during the reign of Phillip I, by the Napoleonic French in 1807 and it suffered signifcant damage in between, in the colossal 1755 earthquake. Finally, between 1870 and 1908, the citadel became the offical summer seat of the royal family and a grand restoration project saw it renovated to its former glory. Indeed, it became the first building in all of Portugal to feature electric lighting in 1878.

This was not my first trip to the citadel – probably about my fifteenth, in fact – but it was the first time I noticed that the tower was open to visitors. I’ve been trying to establish whether I somehow managed to simply miss it or whether, as I think, it had not been open before. Either way, as I reached the heart of the citadel and the wall overlooking the marina below, I noticed that the tower was open and was delighted to find that it was also free to enter. So we decided to take a look.

There were some staff from the tourist authority inside the tower, who gave us some leaflets with information and showed us the way to go, in a typically friendly way. So, we clambered up to the top and were met by some really incredible views of the whole area.

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180 degree panorama of the marina from the tower

Cascais lighthouse

Also one of the best views of the lighthouse that I’ve seen

So, whether you’re familiar with Cascais or not, I strongly recommend climbing the four flights of stairs to the top of the tower and taking in the view – while the summer sun still lasts!

Here be Cats

I love cats. I mean what’s not to love. The animal that is the coolest and knows it’s the coolest. The animal that receives our love and affection only on its own time and gets away with it. Mankind, master of the natural world, but still asking nicely if you can stroke the kitty under its chin. But, as many of you will know, I’m a travelling English teacher. It’s basically like being a gypsy with coursebooks. It doesn’t lend itself well to cat owning (or belonging to a cat, I suppose).

As it happens, my love of Lisbon, life in Portugal, my job, and meeting the love of my life here means I suspect I will indeed have my own cat before too long. But until now, it’s been almost unfathomable. So how then, does one get over this ‘cat saudade,’ save for hassling your only 2 sets of friends who actually have cats in the city? Aqui há gato! might just be the answer.

Situated on the monstrous hill leading up from Santos into Estrela, on Calcada de Estrela, Aqui Há Gato is a cat café. Not too dissimilar to the ones you might have seen on TV from Japan, the concept is frightfully simple. There’s a café where you can go in and do café things, like drink coffee or tea, read a book, buy and eat a sandwich or a cake, but with one crucial difference: half of the café, sectioned off behind doors, is inhabited by a small colony of cats.

When you go in, you’re asked if you’d like to go in and see the cats. If you would, you pay a 3 euro entry fee, which grants you one hour of cat loving time and a free beverage, be it coffee, tea, water, ice tea or whatever. On coming out of the little cat sanctuary, should you decide to stay and have a bit of cake, or lunch, if you spend over 5 euros on food and drinks, your cat visit is free. With my not having too much time, I just took a bottle of water and headed in to the cat zone. The first thing I saw did nothing to deter me from exploring as I encountered this dozing ginger beauty:

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After giving the sleeping kitty a little fuss, which generated not so much as a flinch from its sleeping form, I decided to have a good look around. You can see immediately that they invest in the place. The cats wants for nothing, with toys, water fountains maintaining a cat friendly level of humidity in the room, as well as drinking water, tunnels, platforms, hiding holes and a little private area, off-limits to human visitors, in case of the cats taking a disliking to an individual or kids getting a bit too grabby. The cats are in luxury cat heaven. The space is also set up as a library. There are a number of books in there, but I found myself too distracted to pay much attention to it.

Perchnig on the sofa opposite the cat scratching/sleeping posts, I met up with this little guy and basically fell in love, so much so that I hardly noticed when my friend arrived to join me, a bit later.

We spent close to our full hour in there, stroking and playing with the cats with some of their toys when they became more energetic. It was a lovely experience. The best thing of all though was, on the way out, discovering that all the cats in the cat café are rescue cats from the shelter and, as well as those there in the café, you can also browse the catalogue of cats which are currently up for adoption. I think I’ve found where I’ll be picking up my cat from!

 

Books, Prints and Cards

In the country of my birth, greeting cards are big business. Walk into any specialist card shop (of which there are A LOT), stationers, or supermarket and you will find funny cards, “cute” cards, kid-friendly cards and all the rest. Not just for birthdays, either. Get well soon, congratulations on your baby/new job/engagement/release from prison, happy anniversary, and so on. So, when in Portugal the people closest to me have birthdays, for example, I find the abysmally short supply of totally unimaginative and, frankly, a bit rubbish cards available in Fnac, to be a bit of a disappointment.But what can one do?

Well, as it happens, quite a lot. Some friends of mine visited Lisbon to see me and experience the city for the first time, during the middle of May. Of course they fell in love with the place – who wouldn’t? But anyway, one of my friends had been talking to an art photographer friend of hers, prior to coming out here. He’d told her, as she has an interest in alternative, quirky art and street art, to check out a small print shop/book shop in São Bento, just along from Estrela. He knew the owners and artists who run the place personally and told us to go and have a chat with them.

We arrived in the early afternoon to find one of the couple who run the place, Inês, working on some prints. We introduced ourselves and, as she’d been told we would come in during the course of the week, she took some time out to how us around the place. Inside, there was a wall with a library of books, some regular books from a variety of publishers that they stock but others were made in the shop, written by the artists themselves, with interesting, quirky topics such as the extremely cute little mini book, written by Inês herself, ‘There are cockroaches in the house,‘ which featured a host of lovely artwork and funny lines about the insects’ lives.

There are also a variety of prints and cards available, of all different sizes from large scale framable pieces down to tiny bookmarks. And this is where the place gets really interesting. They print on vintage printing machines (as well as using freehand paints and drawing pens, where appropriate). Some of the machines are a century old and more and, again Inês took the time out to show us how they worked, which was really fascinating.

It’s a wonderful, curious little shop and the owner are really friendly people who clearly have a huge passion for what they do, so I’d certainly recommend popping in for a look around and definitely to take a look the next time you need a greeting card!

You can find them on Facebook here.