Paradise on earth exists and it’s called “Berlenga”

     With the sun shining outside and the hot temperatures coming in, everyone starts to think about their summer holidays. While some people prefer to spend them visiting sights and cities, others prefer to lay down in the sun, close to the beach or swimming pool.

    If you’re in the 2nd group, then this post is for you. Though I love to explore new cities, their history, museums, historical center and all, every now and then (about once a year) I need to get some sun, switch off my brain and think about nothing but sunscreen and good food. I’ve been to a couple of really famous beach destinations but the place that I love the most is… Berlenga.

    By now all Portuguese readers are surely laughing. Berlenga is a small, very small, archipelago located 45 min away from the Portuguese coast. It’s easily reachable by boat, with several departures per day, and consists of a bigger island (492 feet x 262 feet) and some smaller rocks. There’s no drinkable tab water, only one restaurant, one camping site and one small B&B with 6 double rooms. Wondering about cellphone connection? Just climb a small stone and you’ll catch it.

    Berlenga is only inhabited by a small fisherman community but receives many visitors (several dozens, every day) as it’s known for its unique fauna and flora. While rare plants grow in its granite soil, many birds choose the island to build their nests. No wonder Unesco classified it as World Natural Biological Reserve! Its limpid blue waters are perfect for those who like to snorkel, to dive or to take a small boat trip.Since it’s main beach is protected by the island itself from both sides, the water is calm and the beach is perfectly safe for kids or inexperienced snorkelers.

    The reason why I love it is simple: when I’m really busy in Lisbon (and though I love what I do) it’s nice to spare for a couple of days, away from everything, without stress, tv or internet. Wake up with the birds’ noise, enjoy the sun, snorkel and fill my stomach with some fresh fish, fished that same morning.

Berlenga island, Paradise on earth

Have you been there? Would you sleep in a place inhabited by seagulls? Share your thoughts with me and this post with your friends.

Can I just say, again, that I love Alfama?

    Next Saturday I’ll be doing a tour with a group of employees from an International Investment Bank based in Lisbon. Our plan is to walk through some quaint areas of Baixa and Alfama and after the walking tour we’ll do the famous tile painting workshop. Though this tour was aimed mostly at international workers, believe it or not, only Portuguese people joined.

    Touring with natives is always a challenge and I wanted to make sure that I’d show them many places that they don’t know. To make sure that I was prepared and to check the difficulty level of my planned itinerary, I decided to wear some comfortable clothes (and sneakers!) and explore Alfama on my own.

    Alfama used to be the Arabs’ neighbourhood and their defensive system consisted on building their city like a labyrinth. When trying to invade their space, enemies would get immediately lost. While the rest of the town was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755, Alfama was not. Million years ago there was a volcano in this area. It disappeared and Lisbon is safe now, but it left its magma deposit, making this underground area a lot more though. While in 1755 the whole city shake, Alfama stayed still.

    Once inhabited by the fisherman, this neighbourhood still preserves its personality. Though it’s in the centre of Lisbon you’ll feel like in a small town. Everyone knows each-other and there’s a strong sense of community. Kids play soccer freely in the streets where few cars pass and old ladies can be seen in their pyjamas, in the early morning, when they come downstairs to buy bread for breakfast. Still today this area is plenty of little nice alleys, old women chatting from window to window, clothes drying in the balcony and many secrets to reveal.

    Since we are still in the month of the “Popular Saints”, as I mentioned in other posts, the streets are still decorated and… I can’t wait for this tour to happen! I’ll definitely keep you posted!

    In this picture we have Thomas family (remember them?) walking through Alfama. Can you see the decorations on their back and how happy they look?

    Are you looking forward to visiting Alfama? Share your thoughts with me and this article with your friends!

Gift Certificates

June has been quite calm regarding tours, which gives me plenty of time to think about our business strategy, design new tours, keep in touch with former clients and do all sorts of management tasks.

It also allows me to have some free time for myself, but when you own a company, personal life and work always get together. I was browsing ideas for my mum’s birthday gift  when I had an idea: why not to create a special Gift Certificate?

Now everyone can visit Lisbon Stories website and choose a tour to offer. All they have to do is to book the tour (without a specific date, which will be chosen by the person who receives it). They’ll receive a nice gift certificate that, can easily be printed, on the exact same day.

Personally I don’t love Gift Certificates because I don’t like to show the price of the gift and I like to show that I’ve spent some time searching the right gift for that person. With our Gift Certificates both problems are solved: you choose the tour and not the amount of money. While the price is not revealed you can also choose a tour that meets the interests of the person who receives it.

If the perfect tour isn’t listed, we’ll gladly customise it. If the person doesn’t like the tour or has already been there, we can change it with no problems nor costs.

Do you like my idea? Share your thoughts with me and this article with your friends!

 

Santo António – 13th of June, the day to be in Lisbon

The 13th of June is the day to be in Lisbon… just like the 12th of June is the night to be around. Lisbon celebrates St. Anthony, the unofficial Patron Saint and it seems like everything happens that day and night.

Everything starts during the afternoon, with the “Casamentos de Santo António”. This is an old tradition, organized by the town hall and other private sponsors. It’s a group wedding, that this year married 16 young couples, who can apply and be chosen if they have all the required conditions. During the dictatorship, girls would need to be seen by a doctor to certify that they were still virgins. Today they can choose between the religious ceremony in the Cathedral and the civil one in the City Museum.

Later, traffic is cut in “Avenida da Liberdade”, the main avenue of Lisbon, to prepare it for the “Marchas Populares”. Marchas are a sort of Carnival parade organized by the most traditional neighborhoods of Lisbon, on which they have to create their own costume, lyrics, song and dance. They all perform in “Avenida da Liberdade” in front of a jury and the curious eyes of the inhabitants who can’t miss the parade.”Marchas Populares” celebrated 80 years this year and the winner was “Alto do Pina”, for the 2nd year on a row.

After this parade everyone heads to the “Arraiais”, a sort of fair on which the whole historical center is transformed. Everywhere, in the streets and squares of Alfama, Castelo and Bica, there are small improvised bars, counters, stages where small bands perform live and everyone drinks and dances until the sun shines again. Some areas get a little bit too crowded but the nice thing is to watch young and old people, rich and poor, all dancing together popular songs which lyrics everyone knows. Forget a bar or a disco… this night is spent outside, dancing in the street where you normally just sit in traffic.

Since this night is all about St Anthony and he is the “wedding maker”, boys are supposed to offer their girlfriends a “manjerico” – small basil, with a little paper flower, holding a love poem. A lovely tradition that somehow survives to the modern times.

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Getting around Lisbon – your green card to public transportation

Yesterday I was touring around with Paula Thomas and her family. They’re a lovely (big) family from California who are spending a couple of weeks in Portugal and some days in Lisbon. We did a “Old and downtown” walking tour together ,to get their bearings of the city ,and the first thing we did was to buy public transportation tickets, aka “Viva Viagem”.

“Viva viagem” is a green card that you can buy in subway stations and other public transportation offices. It works like a credit card, and every time that you use it, they automatically take out the cost of your journey.

When you buy it choose the option “zapping” and then choose the amount you want do charge: 2€, 5€, 10€ or 15€. Don’t worry about adding too much money, just keep the white receipt that comes with it and before you leave Lisbon, go to a counter with the card and your receipt. You’ll be returned the unused credit.

During your stay in Lisbon, as long as your credit is enough, you’ll be able to use it on board of the trams, buses, historical elevators, subway, trains that go to Sintra and Cascais, and also on the ferries that cross the river. These trips cost 1.40€ using these cards, but if you buy the tickets on board, they can cost up to 5€.

There are three things no one tells you. 1st- these cards are rechargeable: if your credit finishes, just go to another office or machine, insert your card and add some money. The card itself costs 0.50€. 2nd- These cards are very easy to break or demagnetize. Don’t store them together, in your pocket, close to your credit card nor to your cellphone. 3rd- Don’t throw the white receipt away: you’ll need it to get your credit back or to recover it in case your card stops working.

With all this you’ll be saving about 1€ per journey, which you can easily spend on our wonderful “café”, delicious “pastéis de nata” or fresh “imperiais”.

Vinho Verde – Green wine

After my last article about grilled sardines, I definitely have to talk about the wine that should be drunk with them: the green wine. “Vinho Verde” is produced in “Minho” region, a DOC region in the north of Portugal, known for its cold, rainy weather and fertile lands with granite soils. Due to the scarcity of the land and the frozen rime that falls during the night, these vines are cultivated in height, in tunnels or being used as fences.

Green wine is known for being be light, crisp, aromatic, with a light prickle of fizz and sometimes with a touch of sweetness. Should be served chilly and accompanies grilled fish, salads, chicken dishes and seafood. It’s perfect for those warm days when you just feel good when sitting outside, chatting with friends, when you’d normally have a beer.

 Despite its lightness, don’t let it trick you: this wine doesn’t go down, goes straight up to your head and you’ll only feel its effect when you try to stand up. Don’t worry though: it just makes you feel happy and alive, with no headaches nor hangovers. «

This wine is called “green” because the grapes are harvested before they’re done. Though everyone associates Green wine with a white wine, in the north the most popular is the red one, made of red grapes from Green wine casts. It’s confusing, I know. Personally, I like the white “Vinho Verde” better.

Regarding the prices, it’s very reasonable. In a normal restaurant a bottle costs from 10 to 18 euros, and can be bought for a lot cheaper in a supermarket. Since it’s not a “noble” wine no wine expert would ever say that its favorite wine is a green. Glad I’m not an expert: I simply LOVE it!

The stamp that all Green Wine bottles must have to proof its qualityShare your thoughts with me and this post with your friends!

 

Here are the famous sardines!

Today I was doing this tour with Julia and Todd, a happy couple from the USA. Though they just had one day in Lisbon, they really wanted to seize it. We started with a tram ride towards Lisbon’s castle, visited the castle, walked trough the labyrinthine streets of Alfama, tried some port wine, bought some hand-painted tiles and sat for lunch before going to Belém area.

Right, lunch! As you may know, one of Lisbon’s most famous dishes is the sardines. They can be eaten from May until August (the months without an “R”), grilled, preferably accompanied by boiled potatoes, grilled green peppers, salad and some green wine as well. The funny thing is that since sardines used to be a poor’s people dish and hey must be grilled on the coal, you can’t find them in elegant restaurants. To eat sardines you can either follow your nose (the smell of grilled sardines can’t pass unnoticed) or look for a “normal” restaurant, preferably outside, preferably one of those with the special dishes written in a paper-towel, hanged on the wall. These are the best ones and of course that we visited one of these.

While Todd had grilled squids and I had “Frango no churrasco” (roasted chicken, I’ll write about it soon), Julian made me proud and ordered sardines, with Green wine. I’ll write about green wine soon, I promise, but by looking at Julian’s happy face, you can see that it was very good! :)

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