January 2009: Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon is a city I visit quite often for business and each time I discover more and more of its treasures. A lot of these I found armed with one of a traveller’s greatest tools: serendipity. A spare weekend spent walking its streets reveals a satisfying blend of both its rich history and vibrant present.
I’m lucky to have some friends who live there who are always keen to show me the new pockets of the city they’ve uncovered. So I wanted to highlight some of the cooler places in this funky western european city just in case you decide to visit.
1. nood bar:
This is a definite visit for lovers of Asian food. It was one of the first places I stumbled across in Lisbon and pay homage every time I’m in Lisbon. It’s a darkened noodle bar minutes away from the Baixa Chiado metro stop. Some call it a rip off of the Waga Mama chain, but it has a cool design ethic, super friendly staff not to mention fantastic food. Heartily recommend the gyozas (duck, chicken or vegetable) for starters and a Chili Chicken Ramen to follow. All ingredients are fresh and they actually make their own stock which gaves the ramen in particular a strong taste.
2. El Terraco:
Lisbon has stellar weather pretty much most of the year and after time spent ambling around the city you need somewhere to relax and unwind. For one of the best views of the city and the river Targus, head up the hill towards the Castle and saunter onto El Terraco.
It’s basically the top of an abandoned building which has been shoddily converted into a hang out for people wearing loose-fitting hemp pants, dreadlocks, and the ocassional tourist (like me) who plunks themselves down on one of the worn old couches and big cushions.
The fare is minimal; you can order a couple of different beers, a mix of herbal teas and pretty much just toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. But you’re not there for the food, you’re there for the chance to unwind and glance over the city at your leisure. You can while away hours there thumbing through your book above the traffic in the city below.
3. Onda Jazz:
OK this is a recent addition but a real find. Just one metro stop east of the city on the blue line, Onda (Portugese for wave) Jazz spotlights both local and international acts. Their resident act, Terrakota (myspace.com/terrakota) play on Tuesdays and often have guest artists playing with them. They are billed to start at 10:30 but you can wait anything from half an hour to two. But they’re definitely worth the wait so take a beer and wait while Lisbon’s young and old Jazz fans shuffle in and get settled. Beers are dead cheap and you’re given a little tag with a number which as acts as the beer tab you pay when you leave out the back.
4. Conserveira de Lisboa:
Sure another food based place but what the hey, when you walk around a lot you get hungry. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s basically a quaint little canned fish store. No more than 10 square metres or so in size, it’s walls are lined with little tins of canned cod, tuna, squid, sardines – pretty much any thing you can fish out of the water.
The cool thing about this little shop are the two little ladies in the back corners who sit all day wrapping every single tin with their colourful wrappers. Yeah…doesn’t sound so appealing I guess but this place is extremely popular for both locals and tourists alike.
You can find it just beyond the tourist bus drop off point at Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, 34, 1100-071 Lisboa.
5. Street/stencil Art.
This is one of my most favourite things about Lisbon: it’s stencil art. In the earlier 20th century, Lisbon flourished as a city with its lot of grand buildings. Since the world wars a lot of this grandeur has been left to ruin and modern urbanlife has taken over and with it a vibrant street art scene. Most international cities have stencil art, but Lisbon has a real flair for this medium and you can see a colourful range of the banal, poetic, political, rude and bluntly funny art on the walls everywhere.
A couple of years back I once spent a whole weekend scouring the city snapping all the stencil art I saw and came away with over two hundred decent pieces.
There is also evidence of internationally known stencil artists making their mark here with pieces by DOLK and others. This is a lovely one, obliquely blending the old (the tilework) with the new (mimicking the past)
6. The trams.
Lisbon is a city of hills with the centre of the city surrounded by the suburbs above. For this reason, a number yellow trams spread outward and upward from various locations around the city centre. It’s worth riding at least one, particularly the one which takes you up to the castle.
It’s well known in the guidebooks as a haven for pickpockets so amuse yourself picking out the miscreant/s that want to take your wallet.
On one trip, a friend and I offered seats to some elderly ladies who then in return signalled us when known pickpockets made a beeline for us. My friend, an American colonel, blatantly turned to a wouldbe thief and remarked that he hadn’t broken an arm for some time…Lots of fun
6. Green Pepper. Having lived in Norway for a number of years now there is a definite lack of vegetarian food on offer. Basically a vego meal in Norway is a normal dish then you take off the meat. So imagine my delight when two doors down from my hotel was the Green Pepper. I am going out on a limb here and say that this is definitely one of the best vegetarian restaurants I’ve ever been too in the world. Big deal.
The Green Pepper is a sharp, professionally run vegetarian restaurant located near the Praca de Espanha metro stop. Opening for both lunch and dinner, they take vegetarian food to the next level. A family business, they use fresh ingredients every day and the variety is incredible. Faced with about 16 cold and typically three hot dishes there is more than enough to choose from for the vegetarian eater. The most memorable dish was the seitan (chicken substitute) fillets with a coffee bean sauce! Absolutely incredible. The staff are young, friendly and professional and most are ardent surfers.
7. Kaffehaus. Rua Anchieta 3, 1200 – 023 Lisboa. Step into this cafehouse and you step out of Portugal and into Austria. It’s tucked away down an alleyway up near the Baixa Chiado metro (not far from the Nood bar) and offers a quiet respite from the main drag. The guidebooks mention their selection of German and Austrian magazines but I come for the quiet and the great Austrian hot chocolate. Basically they bring you a tall glass of hot milk with a selection of different chocolates. For example, vanilla and cinnamon, hazelnut chocolate, nougat and others. You choose the one you fancy and drop it into the milk for a couple of minutes while you try and pretend to read the papers. Then stir it around to have a very satisfying cup of choc.
OK, this was a taster of what Lisbon has to offer. I’m back quite often so I’ll post more in future on the what other spoils can be found in the winding streets of this beautiful city.