Easter treats

     Apart from Christmas, Easter is probably the most popular family celebration in Portugal.  Catholic traditions go hand in hand with family reunions and most of the time, are just an excuse to get together and, guess what, eat!

     Generally speaking, on holy Friday no meat is eaten. Cod fish- cooked in one of a million ways- is once again, the king of the table. Grilled fish or octopus are also common choices.

      Easter is also a celebration of the relationship between godparents and their godchildren. They exchange some gifts, but mostly sugar coated almonds and chocolate eggs. Another thing that can’t miss is the sweet bread stuffed with boiled eggs (shells still on!) we call Folar.

      Easter Sunday is a family day and no one wants to go anywhere far from the wonderfully laid tables in our family homes. Lamb or Kid either in stew or oven roasted are the most common main dish, but in this point, families definitely rule over tradition and one can find a bit of everything to please everyone’s taste.

      As for me, well I have to tell you: I love them all! No Easter holiday would be complete with some comfort food and family around. Check the “Folar” below:

Comercio Square – Our square

     If you’re visiting Lisbon during Easter, there’s something you can’t miss.

     During the extended Easter weekend (28-31 March), Terreiro do Paço will be transformed into a giant interactive screen — with a free multimedia event, that invites tourists and local residents to visit this revitalized zone of the Portuguese capital.
The initiative will feature drawings by young children and adults that will be brought to life using 3D videomapping projection techniques and an interactive touchscreen platform, in real-time — projected on the facade of the Terreiro do Paço’s West Wing.

     The light show – based on 2D and 3D video-mapping projections and techniques – will be accompanied by a dynamic original soundtrack. From 9 pm onwards  all roads will lead to Terreiro do Paço. Imagination is the only limit.

Both text and images were taken from the event’s official webiste.

 

Google Doodle – Bordallo Pinheiro

     Have you checked google today?

     Today’s google doodle celebrates the 167th birthday of one of the most important Portuguese ceramists, Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro.

     One of his biggest creations was the “Zé Povinho” (can be somehow translated into “John Doe”), representing the average Portuguese man in the 19th century. This is the man you can see in the doodle, with his hands in his pocket, a little bit confused with the actuality and politics. The image is a little bit dated, but we still use the expression today, when we refer to an average person, mostly regarding politics.

     Another creation was the pottery with the shape of a cabbage leaf. Dishes, terrines and bowls with this inspiration can be found almost everywhere in Portugal. In 1884 a factory was created with a view to revitalizing the traditional arts of ceramics. It has been in business since then, recovering old and creating new pieces, always preserving the tradition of our ceramics.

Portugal Restaurant Week

     If you love to go out and try new restaurants, new flavors and gourmet foods, you’re coming to Lisbon during the right week.

     Portugal restaurant week is here and until next Sunday the best restaurants in Portugal will be available at a settle price of 20€ per person (drinks not included). This is a great opportunity to try expensive restaurants, where one can’t go every day. Besides, 1€ per person will be donated to charity, which makes this event even more special.

      To check this long list of restaurants and to do your reservation just follow this link. You’d better hurry up: this promotion only lasts until March the 24th and some restaurants are already full.

    If you decide to give it a try please don’t forget to leave a comment and tell us how it was!

The Terracotta Town

     Yesterday Silvia introduced me to Magda and Tiago and we visited “Aldeia da Terra”, their project.

     Terracotta town is a small themed park (still under construction) that depicts a traditional Portuguese town, always with a little touch of irony. It aims to preserve and promote our traditions, featuring several traditional scenes: women washing clothes in the river, the pig killing, the feet trading of the grapes, etc.

Note the opened pig at the bottom

     All the houses, people and objects in this park were hand-made and painted by Magda and Tiago, who have been working on this project for two years. Every day they add a new set and new characters. Like any other town, it’s different every time you visit.

     This is one those places that you take your children to but you actually enjoy more than them. I deeply enjoyed it and had a couple of laughs looking at some sets: they’re so real!

     It’s always nice to see a young couple devoting their career to the preservation of our traditions, working on clay and creating such a pleasant park. I can only wish them the best and can’t wait to visit again.

“Aldeia da Terra” or “Terracotta twon” is located in Arraiolos, 20 min away from Evora. Visit their website here.

The good side of a rainy day

     On Saturday the wine course was great. Can’t believe how many things I’ve learned and how useful they’ll be. Vines, casts, and most importantly: how to match (or “marry” as Silvia would say) wine with food.

      On Sunday it rained all day. You know how disappointing it is to have a rainy day when you’re touring: you can’t walk around, sit outside nor take good pictures. On the good side, you don’t need an excuse to do a pub crawling and sample different wines and dishes.

    The cheeses were great and same thing about the smoked ham, the sausages and the roasted kid. However, if I needed to choose a winner, I think I’d pick the “lagartos” – “lizards” in English. Don’t worry, I’m not eating reptiles.

“Lizards” are a pork cut, from the pigs back. It’s very tender and tasty but the pieces actually have the shape of lizards. Check the picture, don’t they look like lizards?

Sorry for the crumbles on the dish but you can’t imagine how good the bread was!

LisbonStories goes South

     It’s no secret that I love the north of Portugal but I have to admit that the south has its charm too.

     Alentejo is a land of small towns, small businesses and old traditions, still hand-made. It’s also a region that takes its time to explore, as time goes by very slowly. This way, I decided to spend a couple of days, with time and no defined schedule or itinerary, to discover this region.

     To start, I’ll be joining a wine course provided by Silvia from “Wine Time – Da vinha ao copo“. Silvia is the person that does our winery tours in Alentejo. Her knowledge about wine and the wine-making process has been impressing me and our clients so much that I begged her to create a wine course. She was skeptic at first, but the course sold out quite fast!

     After the course? I don’t know. Small dairies and sausages factories, a huge dam, archaeological sites, small towns and old craftsmen are all on my list.  It may take me longer to update our facebook page, but as a reward, I promise I’ll be including some of these places in our tours.

     Looking for unique wine tours? Just keep posted!

Hey, it’s Carnival!

     Today is Carnival day and from the North to the South all the country is celebrating… and probably masquerading too.

     Carnival is a great opportunity to do some tricks and jokes, masquerade and have fun during five consecutive days. Is it a bank holiday? Theoretically no, but in reality it almost is. At home it’s time to make or buy costumes. Most inspiration comes from movies and fairy-tale characters, professions, other cultures and so on.

     Traditions vary throughout the country but happiness and a care-free spirit are something they all have in common. After all, “É Carnaval, ninguém leva a mal”. It’s Carnival, no one can get offended, is probably the most heard sentence.

     Recently some towns (like Ovar, Sesimbra or Mealhada) got inspired by the Brazilian Carnival and now boast Samba dancers, with colorful and short costumes. Others, like Torres Vedras preserve the tradition. Here most men dress like women and the Allegorical cars used during the parade satirize politicians and important situations.

     Tomorrow night it will be time to “bury Mr. Carnival” and burn a scarecrow, symbolizing the end of festivities. During old Catholic times this would mean the culminate of celebrations and the beginning of Lents fast.

“Alheira” – a sausage plenty of history and flavor

     There was once a time, about 300 years ago when the Inquisition – an extremist section of the Catholic Church – dictated the rules around here. Strangely enough, even in what food was concerned.

     One of the tastiest sausages in Portugal was invented by the Jews during those difficult times as a way to escape the clutches of the Inquisition. Since their religion wouldn’t allow them to eat pork, they would be easily identifiable by their pursuers by not preparing the -very common at the time- smoked pork sausage.

     They found a clever resource: they replaced the pork with a huge variety of other meats, such as veal, rabbit, turkey, duck and chicken sometimes partridge, tucked into richly seasoned dough of wheat bread. Garlic played an important part flavor wise as it would cleverly disguise the lack of pork if any investigation would be carried through.

     The result was “Alheira”: a mouthwatering soft sausage that would eventually become popular even among Christians. Today we can find “Alheiras” made with different ingredients, including pork, as Christians didn’t resist to adding the usual porky touch to the recipe.

     Alheira can be easily found in almost any restaurant menu. Served with a fried egg on top, french fries and salad or vegetables, it can be either fried or grilled.

MacNamara and the waves of Nazaré

     Thanks to Garrett MacNamara even those who couldn’t care less about surf have been hearing a lot about Portugal as a surf destination. I’m going to be honest: I’m not a great fan of surf myself, but the pictures leave anyone speechless and have been going around the world.

  Last year MacNamara was recognized by Guinness World Records for riding the largest-ever wave, a towering 78-foot wall of water. Now he claims he broke his own record, after surfing a 100 foot tall wave, also in North Beach, in Nazaré. Tó Mané, a local photographer, took the magical shot and this picture is now being published by world reference newspapers.

Photo by Tó Mané, originally published by Zon North Canyon

      Is our coast that rough? Incredibly, not at all. Nazaré Canyon is a rare phenomenon created by a gap in the Continental plate. It’s about 105 miles long and 3 miles deep and focuses the Atlantic energy right on the beach of Praia do Norte, creating huge waves.

      If you ask me, I’d give you other solid reasons to visit this area. In Nazaré you can still see women wearing seven skirts (the traditional costume) or dressing all black once they become widows; try incredibly fresh (and affordable) fish in local restaurants; see the fish sun-drying in the beach and relax watching the beautiful waves and beaches in the Atlantic Ocean.

      Any time is good for a visit, as Nazaré is an open door to an almost lost world of local traditions, centuries old and to a never ending variety of table delights. Sounds like a perfect destination for a family trip, doesn’t it?

 

How to order a cup of coffee in Portugal

     Most Portuguese people start their day the same way: with a shot of strong, black coffee, the famous and beloved “café” or “bica”. “Um café se faz favor” (one coffee please) might be the first words of the day, but they’ll be repeated.

      What do we drink? Our regular coffee is what’s generally called expresso: a shot of strong black coffee, normally with sugar. Obviously, we have some variations, the most popular among them being “garoto” (small espresso cup); or even an “italiana” for a really short coffee.

     Bigger sizes? A “meia-de-leite” (is a large cup, half is milk and the other half is coffee); a “galão (3/4 coffee, ¼ of milk); and “abatandado” is for American coffee. Just coffee? No. Normally we have a little pastry to go with it, but that’s a subject big enough for another post.

      Besides the energy boost, there’s also the social side. “Hey, do you want to have a coffee?” might be the easiest way to break the ice with a new work colleague or to catch up with a friend. Are you staying for a few days in the same place and want to meet someone? Go for coffee at the same place everyday: by day 4 the waiter will serve you without even asking what you want.

      What about coffee to go? There’s no such thing. Even if you’re having a quick cup of coffee on your way to work, it’s very likely that you’ll have a quick chat with the waiter or with the person standing next to you. Weather, soccer and breaking news are normally the topics.

What about American movies shot in Portugal?

     When you think about beautiful movie scenes and movie actors, you might think of Cannes, Sardinia or possibly Beverly Hills. But what about Portugal?

      It’s no surprise that Wim Wenders shot his films “Lisbon Story” and “The state of things” in Lisbon as they clearly used this city as a part of the story. But did you know that “Invisible circus”, directed by Adam Brooks, with Cameron Diaz, was partially shot in Portugal too? Same thing about The Dancer Upstairs directed by John Malkovich.

     Remember the Mexican landscape of “The House of the Spirits” with Antonio Banderas and Meryl Streep? Well, actually it was a Portuguese landscape as that movie was filmed in Alentejo, a beautiful region of flat and dry land, with great wines and food, in the south of Portugal.

     And where was Ian Flemming when he “created” the most famous international spy, James Bond? In Hotel Palacio, in Estoril. The Casino of Estoril gave him the inspiration to write “Casino Royale” and “On his majesty’s secret service” were featured many scenes of Praia do Guincho, near Cascais. This was definitely a perfect set for the incurable romantic and the dreamers.

      More recently Bille August directed “Night train to Lisbon” a movie that should come out really soon. It’s based on the homonymous novel by Pascal Mercier and after reading the book, I just can’t wait to watch the movie.

 

Take the lead and come along to shoot your very own movie in Lisbon!

Lauren, will you marry me?

     We’ve all dreamed of wonderful proposal stories with medieval castles, sunsets by gorgeous views, or even surprise trips. Well, this is one of them, but actually happened.

     Lauren was going to visit Lisbon on her own, and Nathan decided to give her a little surprise. Two months in advance he emailed me and asked for my help to put up something really special. How could I say no?! My mind immediately started to conspire different ideas.

     Nathan told Lauren he’d have a surprise for her in Lisbon and gave her a letter she could only open on the plane. The letter said that the surprise was a tour of Lisbon but little she knew what it really was.    When I picked her at the airport and found her a little upset as she wished a bigger surprise… she even asked me twice if her boyfriend was in the city! I had to lie and apologize, saying that I only exchange a couple of emails with Nathan (we might have exchanged 20) and he only asked for the tour.

     I suggested we’d start the tour with Lisbon’s castle (the chosen location) and then asked her to come downstairs, where the tiles were waiting for her. Words can’t describe Lauren’s reaction (I think that her brain just blanked) when she saw the tiles with her name written on. I had to ask Nathan to hurry up (he was coming downstairs by then) before she’d get a heart attack, but she only got more confused when she finally saw him.

     It was a magical moment when them met halfway in a long flight of stairs, in Lisbon’s castle, by the sunset, with a gorgeous view and many emotions. He got on one knee, showed her the ring and… she said Yes!  It was such a delight to meet them and take part in such a lovely proposal. Best wishes guys!

Love this story? Do you need some help to make something similar? Let us know!

We are back!

Many were the reasons that forced Lisbon Stories to “freeze” this blog but today we’re really happy to announce that we’re back!

Want to know what we did during our silence? Looking for useful information about Portugal and helpful tips for your visit? Just keep posted!

I hope that you missed us as because we missed you too!

 

Bread-for-God, the Portuguese tradition for Nov the 1st

     While the rest of the world celebrates Halloween on October the 31st, in Portugal we have our very own tradition. We also give candies to the kids, but they need to behave.

     Like in many European countries the 1st of November is the day to visit the tomb of our deceased relatives, clean it and bring fresh flowers, preferably chrysanthemums. We call it “All Saints Day”, assuming that all our deceased ones could be saints.

     For kids this is one of the most important days of the year. They all wake up early, dress their best clothes and gather in small groups. Mums finish ironing their fabric bags, generally embroidered or hand painted and let them go.

    They’ll pass by every house of the town singing “Pão por deus, Pão por deus, Saco cheio, E vamos com deus” aka “Bread for god, Bread for god, With a full bag, We’ll go with god” and the neighbors will give them candies, chocolates or homemade cakes. Obviously kisses and compliments like “you’re so grown-up now” are also a must.

    Unfortunately this tradition is only alive in small towns and since Troika forced our government to erase this holiday, this is the last year, sigh. Still, I was rather happy to welcome all the kids of the neighborhood, remembering how much I used to love this day.

Is Portugal a child-friendly country?

     Since LisbonStories offers child-friendly tours and doesn’t charge anything for children car seats or booster seats a good part of our clients come with their little ones. Scott family emailed me asking if Portugal is a child friendly country. They’ll be travelling with a 9 mo boy and 6 yo girl and are quite concerned.  Assuming they are not thinking of taking their kids to a night club nor to a fashion show, spending a holiday in Portugal as a family is easy peasy as children are welcome pretty much everywhere.

      Culture: Museums, palaces and monuments, wherever you go most likely there will be a special program or guided visit for your little ones. If you want to enjoy the place as a family, you’ll find plenty of 50% discounts, free entrances or family packages with friendly prices.

      Eating: Going out to eat whether it is lunch or dinner, shouldn’t be a problem either. Most restaurants have special menus for children, a high chair and sometimes colouring paper and pencils. In some places they won’t mind if you share your dish with your kid nor if you ask them to warm a soup for your baby. Just mention that you have children in the group when you make the reservation.

      Sleeping: most if not all hotels have big rooms where an extra bed or a crib can be installed, just for a small extra fee. Communicant rooms are usually available and if you decide to go for a romantic adult’s dinner ask at the reception to call a baby sitter as they’ll have some contacts and good references.

      Walking around: Don’t be surprised if someone starts playing with your child, talking to you about their pretty eyes or trying to console them if they are crying. Don’t be alarmed! We just love children and don’t mind showing it. Lisbon is a very safe city and in some neighborhoods kids still play football in the streets… your kids are welcome there too.

Prepare your kids for the trip and let them color Vasco da Gama and his vessel! You’ll  certainly feel as part of the family over here!

Autumn or Fall

I know that everyone prefers to travel during Spring or Summer but in the late years I’ve discovered the best season to discover Portugal and it’s not one of these.

During Autumn days won’t be that long nor that warm, but since it’s not so hot, you won’t have to run from shade to shade and drinking coffee or wine outside will definitely be pleasant. During the day a nice breeze will cool the temperature and at night a chilly atmosphere will give you the perfect excuse to wear your new jacket.

Summer peak is the period of the crowds, high prices, busy service and a tired waiter. After September it becomes a lot easier to find a table or a good hotel room. Streets will be half empty and everyone will welcome you everywhere.

If you like to blend in with the locals, it’s also the best moment as everyone is already back from their vacation and you’ll get to see the real country’s life.

The real reason why I like the Autumn so much? It’s the beginning of the low season and soon I’ll be walking through the city on my own, with a package of “burning” roasted chestnuts to warm my cold hands!

 

The wonders of Cascais

If you are thinking of coming to Lisbon soon- and you probably are, or else why would you be reading this web blog in the first place?- you shouldn’t miss the chance to extend your tour- and get to know Cascais and Estoril, just 20 minutes away!

 Check on the weather first but I dare say that the first stop in Estoril is inevitably, the calm sandy beach with its terraces by the sea where you can sit and relax having a drink and looking at the waves coming and going.

 Crossing the road, I won’t let you miss out the famous Casino Estoril built in the early 20th century and from which Ian Fleming during the World War II got inspiration for his most famous character and novel the secret agent 007, James Bond in Casino Royale

 Just 5 minutes away in the famous N6- the ring road by the sea- is Cascais.  Once there, we will make our way to the lively town centre and from there to the old town where the fishermen’s houses still keep their original trace.

 If you feel brave enough to face the ride, we will grab a bicycle-they are let, for free by the municipality- and  take the road to Guincho Beach, about 3 km from the centre and enjoy the wild landscape of dunes and ocean, surrounded by the lavish green of the National Park of Sintra- Cascais.

 Coming back, if you’re feeling hungry, we will choose one of the several well known fish restaurants on the cliffs and try some of our best fish and shell fish specialties directly from the sea. And whichever time of the year you choose to come, Cascais always has a little something to offer you, whether you are a museum fan or more like the tanning in a wonderful beach kind!

This idea can easily be included in your “Sintra Cascais” tour.

Lisboa Open House – architecture

     Did it ever happen to you to suddenly find a beautiful building (sometimes looking out of place) and stop your fast walk to look at it? Did you ever thought that it was a palace or museum but it was “just” someone’s house or office?

    This weekend Lisbon Open House will answer many of the questions about architecture and will also show several buildings from a very special point of view: the architect’s who build it.

     Open House is all about unlocking the secrets of architecture for you, the public, so that everyone can enjoy it. That means opening a lot of doors that are usually shut, and even when they’re open, giving you the insights to enjoy and understand the architecture there. We do that with guides, tours, and information sheets that are all free, and some of Portugal’s leading architects will be making contributions. It all comes together in one amazing weekend. (piece taken from the Official Website

     Afraid of getting lost? There’s a very handy map with all the buildings and the fact sheet also includes lots of useful information: location, schedules, how to get there, etc etc.  Though some buildings need prior reservations, many others can be visited at any time… and free of charge!

Carmo convent – our 1st featured museum

     Carmo convent and museum couldn’t be a better start for our new category: featured museum.

    Built during the late 14th century, it could be just another European Gothic monastery if it wasn’t destroyed by the earthquake of 1755, a major earthquake that destroyed a considerable part of Lisbon. The structure was compromised and there was no way to recover this building. Instead of trowing it down, it was decided to turn it into an Archaeological museum to remember forever the victims of the earthquake.

     We’ve all seen beautiful Gothic monasteries but this one is special. When you look up, instead of looking at a massive stone-roof, you see the sky and the clouds. Hanging on the walls and ground there are several tomb-stones, coat of arms and other interesting archaeological findings from different centuries.

   To complete this beautiful place, where once was the transept we now have a real archaeological museum chronologically organized.

 

    Practical info: it’s located close to Chiado and Bairro Alto; closes on Mondays and opens from 10 am to 6 pm. The admission fee is 3,5€ with discounts for students and senior citizens.