York: People and a pastry

My last day in York dawned bright and blue-skied, a welcome sight after my wet Wednesday, so I was up, checked out and ready for a cruise on the Ouse (pronounced ‘ooz’ peeps – just to explain my rhyming turn of phrase) only to find that all trips for that day had been cancelled…due to flooding.

Hmmmm…

So I wandered around the Yorkshire Museum Gardens for half an hour – to make the most of the sunshine (in case it disappeared)…

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…before deciding to head into the Museum itself.

The Yorkshire Museum turned out to be my favourite thing-to-do of the trip – and that’s in a trip full of great things to do. I loved walking through the early years of York – or Eboracum as it was originally known – reading about its people and each era’s way of life. I walked in the steps of the Romans then uncovered some Viking and Anglo-Saxon treasures…

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….before meandering to the Normans (from 1066) and into the reign of King Richard III (during the late 1400s). There was so much to pore over and read about as I wound my way through all of these exhibits. It was fabulous.

And that wasn’t all. The museum had a fascinating exhibit on Extinction. Did you know that 99% of all species that have ever lived are extinct? The exhibit began with an overview of the Five Mass Extinctions and how they happened. What followed was a range of cases displaying fossils from each period which brought each extinction chapter to life – here are just a few:

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The story ended with a showcase of the conservation efforts aimed at some currently endangered species as well as examples of where re-introducing species had not worked. It all led to the final question of the exhibit: ‘Should we just let nature take its course?’. It was a thought-provoking note to end on.

After a bite to eat, I decided on a slightly more modern turn for the afternoon and headed over to Treasurer’s House. The property is tucked away behind York Minster and was donated to the National Trust by Frank Green in 1930. Green was the son of a wealthy industrialist and although he did not always restore faithfully ‘to the period’, the house is a testament to his passion for architecture and antiques. It was also the Trust’s first fully furnished property.

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I spent a pleasant hour or so admiring and reading about each of the rooms and the house’s grand visitors which included King James I and the future King Edward VII.

I also enjoyed learning about Frank Green’s vision for the property. His vision was incredibly specific, so much so that his gift to the Trust came with a condition – that the house would always be displayed as he’d left it. One example: While he had lived in the house, he’d had studs placed in the floor to ensure that the furniture was always positioned exactly where he wanted it.

This practice is still adhered to more than a century later.

This might seem to be – okay it is – the legacy of a control freak but what I ended up seeing was his home exactly as he lived in it and not some version that had been tinkered with over time. It poses a number of interesting questions about the restoration of historic properties and how far this should go before they move away from being ‘original’.

I had a couple of hours before my train back to London and I could think of nothing I wanted more than a return visit to Betty’s Tearooms. I lingered leisurely over some home-made soup and then all but inhaled the most heavenly vanilla slice I have ever eaten. Seriously peeps, I do not have enough words to express just how delicious it was. Needless to say it was my favourite thing-to-eat for my entire stay.

Then it was back to the hotel to collect my bag before trundling back across Lendal Bridge to the train station.

River Ouse from Lendal Bridge (l) (sml)

A sunset-kissed farewell from York while standing on Lendal Bridge

So that ends my marvellous minibreak in York. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’d especially love it if this series of posts has inspired you to go and discover its treasures for yourself. Please let me know if you do…

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My four York posts:

Photo tour: A walk in York

York: The tower, tour and tearooms

York: Amus-(eum)-ing myself

York: People and a pastry

York: Amus-(eum)-ing myself

Let’s begin by establishing that my second full day in York was a wet one. The skies grizzled ominously and gushed forth in turn so it was just as well there were plenty of indoor activities to keep me amused.

After a bracing walk along the river, I spent the morning at the York Castle Museum. Located just by Clifford’s Tower, it’s comprised of two buildings – the old Female Prison to the left and the old Debtors Prison to the right – with a gift shop (there’s always a gift shop) and cafe in between. The museum weaves an eclectic route through York society and culture during the 1800s-1900s and all it takes is a tenner to get amongst it.

I began with the Female Prison Building – containing exhibitions covering the changing nature of homes and living – and a nod to one of York’s great pillars of commerce, chocolate.

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The Rowntree’s company in York invented the Kit Kat and the Terry’s Chocolate…Apple?

I wandered through the toys exhibit…

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…passed a number of rooms set up to show life in York’s different social circles…

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A single room cottage – cosy!

…and ended by meandering around the museum’s indoor streetscape, Kirkgate.

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There was also an exhibit called Shaping The Body covering the history of body shape and size, the advent of fashion and food trends as well as an overview of various exercise fads over the last 400 years. I had a little chuckle at the irony of this given York’s chocolate connection!

Next I headed across to the Debtors Prison Building for the exhibition on The Great War (World War I). If you like war history this would be right up your street. I spent 45 minutes or so wandering through but to be honest, I struggled to stay interested.

I also visited the old prison cells in this building and learned about some of the people incarcerated there – you can actually stand in the cell where highwayman Dick Turpin was held before his execution and hear ‘him’ speak.

As I was heading out to the museum exit, I saw a sign pointing to a ’60s exhibition. A peek outside confirmed that it was still raining buckets so I dashed across to the annex and enjoyed a brush with a replica lunar module, pondered fashion and homewares from the decade and listened to a blast from the past – the theme tune from Doctor Who.

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At this point more than three hours had passed and I was well and truly ready for lunch. Brolly up, I emerged into the downpour and headed over to Castlegate for a pleasant (and dry) spell at Source.

With the rain looking like it was going nowhere fast, I decided to spend the afternoon at the National Railway Museum. This is free and contains an extraordinary number of trains and related exhibits. I am no trainspotter and I still managed to spend just under three hours here…

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I especially liked the display on the warehouse mezzanine floor which showed all of the technologies used to manage the rail network. Of particular interest was the signalling system – anyone who uses the tube and train network in the UK is familiar with ‘signal failure’ being a cause of disruption in their journey. But for the life of me, I could not work out how to read the computer screen showing the real-time ‘ins and outs’ of York Station. Best I stick to my day job.

The damp squib continued outside and the thought of a pint of something somewhere warm was growing in appeal. While strolling down Stonegate a couple of days earlier, I’d come across a sign pointing to an intriguing alleyway so that was where I headed – to Ye Olde Starre Inne, one of York’s oldest (and supposedly haunted) pubs…

It was here that, as I relaxed by the open fire and sipped my pint, I read the news about the Westminster terror attack. Feeling thankful that I was well away from it all (and that I could reassure family and friends I was safe), I was taken back five months when that very place had been part of my daily commute. I shed a few shocked tears at the horror of it all yet tucked safely in a warm and cosy corner of an historic city that had survived so much, it felt like I was in the perfect place to reflect.

And as I fell into an(other) exhausted sleep that night, I thought about the importance of living life to the fullest and being present to life’s many joys every day.

Then Thursday dawned, crisp and sunny…

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My four York posts:

Photo tour: A walk in York

York: The tower, tour and tearooms

York: Amus-(eum)-ing myself

York: People and a pastry

York: The tower, tour and tearooms

As a history buff and fan of the city break, a visit to York has been on my to-do list for quite some time (okay, since I moved here thirteen years ago). So in March, I finally got my act together, booked a bed and a spot of breakfast for a few days and hopped on a train for the two hour journey north.

I had three days to spend and a list of things I wanted to do. The weather managed to mix it up too – bursts of sunshine book-ended drizzle, rain and even a flurry of snow. But it was blue skies that beckoned as I got off the train, bouncing off bobbing yellow daffodils and brushing the distant Minster tower with soft light. So I checked into my hotel (Marmadukes Town House Hotel), dumped my stuff and headed out to explore.

York Arrival montage

I spent the last few hours of daylight wandering through the walled city’s cobbled streets and when the light finally faded, I found a cosy spot at the Lamb and Lion Inn (right under the old City Gate, Bootham Bar) to prepare my plan of attack over a quiet pint of something local.

It was a full three days – a wonderful mix of history, curiosities, architecture and breathtaking views – and I have so much to share with you. So I’ve split my York warblings into three Armchair Tours to cover the things I loved about each day.

Here’s Part One…enjoy!

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Photo tour: A walk in York

I went to York for three days in March. It’s a city that’s absolutely chock full of history – which I love – and is wonderfully walk-able – which I also love. Quite frankly, I’m astounded that it’s taken me thirteen years to get there.

True to form, the English weather prevaricated between gloriously crisp blue-sky days and a grey drizzle that bordered on menacingly unfriendly from time to time.  Needless to say there were lots of layers-off-layers-on moments as I adjusted to these changes. But that did not stop me doing loads of great stuff and taking oodles of photos.

To whet your appetite for the posts to come, I thought I’d share some of the pics that take me back and even now, take my breath away. Enjoy!

Continue reading

Belem, two hills and a valley

The story so far: Lil Chicky and I managed a six day rendezvous in Lisbon at the beginning of October. We ate, walked, had a day out of town and took squillions of photos – here’s another installment of our adventures.

Having already booked our day trip to Sintra and our Lisbon Eats Walking Tour, we knew we had four days left to explore Lisbon itself. We are both big fans of a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus (hereafter referred to as the HOHO bus) and decided that buying a 48 hour ticket was the perfect way to get our bearings – by the end of our first day, we had managed to combine all of the things we wanted to see into some semblance of a plan.

The valley

The central districts of Lisbon are built across two main hills and the valley that lies between them. If you stand with your back to the River Tagus at Praca do Comercio, the valley lies in front of you and follows a path through Baixa, Rossio, Restauradores and the Avenida da Liberdade.

the-valley

L to R: Looking towards the River Tagus through the arch leading onto Praca do Comercio; turn around and head straight to Rossio where in the top left corner, you’ll find the gorgeous Rossio train station; a brisk 20 minute walk up the Avenida da Liberdade from the station will take you to the Pombal roundabout and this view of Praca Dom Eduardo VII.

We spent a fair bit of time here: The HOHO bus routes all start from the Pombal roundabout and stop in Rossio which itself was less than a ten minute walk from our apartment. Several times we found ourselves wandering through the streets of Baixa on our way back to the apartment and after walking for several hours each day, we were pretty grateful for this flat, easy route home.

Rossio is also the location of two of our pasteis de nata haunts – Cafe Nicola and Pastelaria Suica – and the neighbouring Praca de Figueria held a third – Confeitaria Nacional. Combined with Praca de Martim Moniz, with its cluster of food huts and outdoor tables at one end and The Mundial with its fabulous rooftop bar at the other, we had plenty of places to eat, drink and watch the world go by.

The hill on the right

Coming back to the Praca do Comercio, if you look to your right the Castelo de Sao Jorge perches atop the hill…

view-of-martim-moniz-from-castel

This is the view of ‘the valley’ from Castelo de Sao Jorge on the hill to the right. The longer stretch of green running from left to right at the top of the picture is Restauradores and the square is Praca de Martim Moniz – we stayed in an Air BnB apartment in the building where the yellow bus is. It was a great location and fabulous view of the castle from the window every morning.

…with the Alfama district cluttered busily below.

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L to R: Alfama is full of meandering passages and lots of steps; the view from Castelo de Sao Jorge over Alfama – you can just see the 25th of April bridge over the river and the Christo Rei statue on the other side. 

We spent a good couple of hours up at the castle early on the Tuesday morning. The views are absolutely spectacular and you get to see Lisbon from all sorts of angles especially if you climb up and walk around the ramparts.

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Another stunning view from the Castelo de Sao Jorge

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Clockwise L to R: View of Castelo de Sao Jorge from our apartment; entering the fort; the ramparts; the nearby archaeological site; the main entrance to the castle is a short walk up hill from Largos das Portas do Sol.

We spent the rest of that day wandering back down through Alfama, stopping to admire the wares at the Feira da Ladra (The Thieves Market) and to visit the Panteo Nacional at the Church of Santa Engracia.

fearie-de-ladre-montage

The Feira da Ladra: My vintage handbag (bottom right) was a bargain and I managed to squeeze it into my carry-on to get it home. Happy days!

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Clockwise from top left: The dome of the church of Santa Engracia against a bright blue sky; interior view at ground level; another fantastic spot to capture the view; eagle eye view of the interior; a moment to rest in the shade.

The hill on the left

Looking left from the Praca do Comercio you can see Bairro Alto rising up from Chiado with the viewing deck of the Elevador de Santa Justa just visible between the roof tops.

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Santa Justa views: From Baixa at the bottom (left) and of the spot we stood from the viewing deck at the top (right).

Rather than join the queue to go up in the lift from Baixa, we took an alternative – and more circuitous – route to get to the top. We caught the #28 tram from Martim Moniz early Wednesday morning, weaving through the hilly streets around the castle and down through Alfama (much easier on the legs than all of the walking we did the day before). We got off at the Biaxa-Chiado Metro station for breakfast at the nearby Cafe A Brasileira in Rue Garrett before the short walk up the hill to visit the 14th century ruins of Igreja do Carmo.

igreja-do-carmo-montage

Top left: The magnificent entrance to the remains of the old carmelite church that remain standing from the earthquake in 1755. Right: View of the site from the viewing deck of the Santa Justa elevator.

After a couple of hours here we walked straight across to the viewing deck entrance at the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa and took in the stunning views from the other side of the valley.

santa-justa-montage

Left: Spiral stairs lead up to the viewing platform. Right: Yet another spectacular view across Lisbon to the Castelo de Sao Jorge on the opposite hill.

Then it was a wander through the streets of Bairro Alto before catching the Elevador da Gloria (a funicular running between Restauradores and Bairro Alto) back down to the valley again.

barrio-alto-montage

Scenes from our wanders through Bairro Alto and the funicular that transported us down the hill again.

We had been told that the time to really see Bairro Alto come to life is at night but it was pleasant to walk through the streets in the sunshine and take our time. We ended up at an outdoor cafe on Miradour de San Pedro de Alcantara eating, drinking and listening to a bit of Marvin Gaye under the trees.

Belem

And finally we went a little further afield and took the HOHO bus out to Belem. There’s plenty to see and do including…

…the Monument to the Discoveries – covered with scaffolding…

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…and the Torre de Belem, where the queue was so long, we didn’t go in.

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Thankfully we had better luck at the Jeronimos Monastery

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…where we spent a glorious couple of hours wandering through the cloisters, the refectory and the church where the tomb of Vasco da Gama lies. We took loads of photos here but it’s really difficult to do it justice. Suffice to say it is absolutely worth the visit but leave yourself plenty of time to see everything, perhaps taking a meander through the market as well as popping across the road to Pasteis de Belem for a custard tart.

So as you can imagine we had a pretty full four days and there were still plenty of things we did not see. But I hope in this and the last two posts, I’ve shared enough to whet your appetite for this wonderful city and all it has to offer.


Other posts in this series:

Lisbon: A big day out

The story so far: Lil Chicky and I managed a six day rendezvous in Lisbon at the beginning of October. We ate, walked, did a little shopping and took squillions of photos – here’s another installment of our adventures.

After a couple of days squeezing a whole lot of value out of our 48 hour HOHO (Hop On Hop Off) bus ticket, we decided to venture farther afield and let someone else take the reins. Cue Andre from Portuguese for a Day tours who collected us from our apartment on a bright blue-sky Monday morning and drove us to the mountain village of Sintra.

For those of you who don’t know, Sintra is a UNESCO Cultural Landscape site set amidst the cool woodlands on Serra de Sintra about a 30-40 minute drive from Lisbon. It’s the site of many royal summer palaces featuring a range of architectures and this makes Sintra a really delightful and interesting day out of Lisbon’s hurly burly.

This was Lil Chicky’s first trip so she wanted to see and learn ‘lots’ whilst I went to Sintra as part of a tour back in 2002 – our then group spent time at the National Palace of Queluz but got very little time in Sintra itself so I was keen to see something different and take a little time to relax. With Andre’s help, we got all of that and more.

After a pleasant drive, full of getting-to-know-you chat as well as discussion about the area and the day ahead, we found ourselves on a shaded winding road, climbing up the mountain through Sintra itself and onto the Parque da Pena.

The park is absolutely huge and you could spend at least a day exploring all of its nooks and crannies but our focus was the spectacular Pena Palace. This summer palace was built for Dom Ferdinand II, consort of the young Queen Maria II (and cousin to Prince Albert who married England’s Queen Victoria) and is situated over the remains of a Hieronymite monastery found on the site in the 15th century.

There’s 15 minute steep-ish uphill walk to get to the palace but it’s absolutely worth it – we walked all over it and also around it, getting some fantastic views from the ramparts.

pena-panoramas

These panoramas were taken on my phone on the way up. Inspiring, yes but I found myself wondering throughout the visit – and since – how on earth could I represent the wonderful-ness of this place.

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L to R: View of the entrance archway from the ramparts; beautiful blue and white tiles cover this part of the building; I captured this quiet moment on the way into the palace itself.

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There’s an absolute cornucopia of amazing colour and texture around every corner.

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There were stunning views from everywhere but I especially loved this view of the coast through the Moorish arches.

Wandering around outside the palace is included in the park entrance fee but we also paid a few extra euros to go inside.

pena-interiors-montage

The palace interior was a bit crowded and warranted a bit more time than we had but was full of delicate detail, reflecting Ferdinand’s interest in the arts. But all of these trinkets take an awful lot of dusting…

We met Andre back at the entrance after 90 minutes and as we drove back towards Sintra, we had a chat about what to do next. But it was as we drove past Quinta da Regaleira and heard Andre’s stories about the eccentric millionaire with masonic connections who had it built in the early 1900’s that we were sold. So it was back out of the car and with map in hand, we spent an hour exploring the symbols of religion and the occult scattered amidst the web of shaded paths.

quinta-tunnels

Andre had told us about the network of secret tunnels and the Initiatic Well so we headed towards the Portal of the Guardians (top left) and entered the tunnel (top right). After a short walk we emerged at the Initiatic Well (bottom left) then climbed down the narrow spiral stairs to capture the view from the bottom (bottom right).

quinta-montage

A further wander around the gardens yielded a view of the country house, or quinta (top left), many towers and turrets nestled amidst the trees (top middle and right), the lake of the waterfall (bottom right) and a grand mosaic fountain near Leda’s Grotto (bottom left).

quinta-church

Before we headed back to meet Andre, we visited the tiny chapel nestled under the trees not far from the quinta itself.

We were feeling pretty hungry after this visit so Andre took us to a great place in Sintra called Adega das Caves where we sat outside and enjoyed a beer and some local fare – my cod fritters were delicious!

sintra-main-st

L to R: The blue tiles of the post office building – you can see the Adega das Caves entrance under the balcony; an interesting merchandising display overlooking our lunch position; driving past the Sintra National Palace.

Before leaving for the drive back to Lisbon, we stopped at Piriquita to stock up on Sintra’s claim to pastry fame (and Andre’s favourite Portuguese pastry) – the pillow-y travesseiro – so we had a little something sweet for the three of us on the way back. (I did not get any photos but there are great descriptions/photos provided in a blog post by Leigh and Lucy from their visit back in 2013.)

We started the meandering drive back to Lisbon along the coast, stopping first at Cabo da Roca.

cabo-da-roca-montage

Cabo da Roca is the western-most point of mainland Europe and lines up very nicely with New York on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. We stretched our legs, took some photos…and had a giggle at some of the tour groups milling around.

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Probably entirely innocent but it did look a bit like a bus for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Bunnies

And then it was back into the car for the drive past the beaches of Guincho and Estoril, and a 20 minutes leg stretch in Cascais before heading to one of Andre’s old haunts to enjoy a quiet moment watching the waves and savouring our travesseiros.

(As we drove in, we surprised an older couple necking in their car much to their embarrassment. Andre had told us he used to come here and drink with his mates so this was a great opportunity to tease him about what else he might have gotten up to.)

And with that the day was done and less than an hour later, we were deposited back at our apartment tired, windswept and absolutely thrilled with our Big Day Out.

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Andre from Portuguese for a Day Tours with his two happy customers at Cabo da Roca

Andre (and partner Filipa) are two enterprising locals running small group tours that showcase the country they love. Andre’s passion and knowledge was evident from the start and we had plenty of opportunities to shape the day as we wanted as well as relying on Andre’s recommendations about what we might enjoy. For me, it was a lovely way to revisit this area and enjoy a little local cameradie. I know Lil Chicky would join me in strongly recommending that you give them a try vs some of the larger operators offering similar tours in the area.

But don’t just take our word for it – you can also see what others thought here and if you fancy finding out more, here’s a link to the Portuguese for a Day Tours website.

And don’t forget to stay tuned for more from Chicky Tours Unlimited’s adventures in Lisbon – there’s more coming soon…once I sort more of my photos.

When a foodie goes to Lisbon

When you live so far away from loved ones, the opportunities to come together are precious and rare so when my sister told me she had to be in Europe for work/a conference for a couple of weeks, we decided to rendezvous in Lisbon for six days of sibling fun. This kind of jet-setting would have completely impressed me before I embarked on expat life – we found ourselves explaining our across-the-globe holiday planning a lot during the trip (our accents prompt a fair bit of inquiry) – and I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually ME in the story versus someone else.

Anyway Lisbon was fabulous. We had wonderful weather in the mid to high 20’s (Celsius), and we were never short of something to do, see, wander around or eat and drink. It’s a tough task to pick one post’s worth of highlights for you to peruse. So there’ll be a few posts in the series as I try and draw out the best of what was an amazing week.

My first post in an armchair tours series is not usually about food but quite frankly, I keep thinking about it and it’s like I can’t write about anything else until I scratch my foodie itch. So loosen your belts peeps, here goes…

Having never been to Lisbon before, one of of Lil Chicky’s most important introductions was to Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese custard tarts. This is a complete departure from what Australians think of as a custard tart. A pastel de nata is a small bite (well about three bites really) of flaky pastry filled with a rich buttery eggy custard. Our first one of the trip was at Confeitaria Nacional on the corner of Praça da Figueira.

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It went down a treat – so much so that we made it our mission to try a custard tart from a different place each day and nominate ‘the best’ at the end.

Lisbon is a hilly place and this, combined with an average of six to seven kilometers of walking each day, meant we found plenty of reasons to stop and refuel wherever we were.

assorted-vittels

L to R: Delicious gelati (she had raspberry, I had passionfruit) at Gelateria Portuguesa just around the corner from the entrance to the Castel de Sao Jorge; caffeine kept us going and the Portuguese make pretty good coffee; our first Caipirinha was sipped from the rooftop bar at The Mundial on Martim Moniz with excellent views across to the castle.

Most evenings, we either wandered down to the food huts on Martim Moniz or grabbed some snack-type vittels and wine from the supermarket at the bottom of our building. We did try the Time Out Market on Sunday night with mixed results – Chicky’s meal was delicious but I was served cold, stringy and partially-cooked fries with my fish which the vendor refused to swap (that’s how we do it, I was told). Luckily the wine was good and Chicky found some freshly-made churros to ease my disappointment.

A few nights later we thought we should try some traditional cuisine. On the recommendation of a local, we snaffled an outdoor table at Cervejaria A Lota in Restauradores and to the cacophony of a strident spruiking battle between a couple of the restaurants in the street, we enjoyed a(nother) Portuguese red wine, grilled sardines and a mixed bill of mains.

a-lota

Far right: My delicious fish and rice ‘stew’ (monkfish, shrimps, clams served with rice in a tomato and herb broth) is in the foreground. Chicky got adventurous and went for the wild boar (in the background) which she said was okay – game-y and quite salty.

Our final day was one abridged by departures (Chicky to her conference hotel and me back to London) so we booked a foodie walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. We spent several hours with Celia (our guide) and a Brazilian couple (just off the plane from Sao Paulo) learning about and tasting Portuguese food. It started with a wander around the Time Out Market (it’s also called the Mercado da Ribeiro) with Celia explaining the elements of traditional Portuguese cooking and introducing us to a few familiar and unfamiliar ingredients…

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…before settling us at a table for our first eating and drinking of the tour – some ‘toasties’ filled with local ingredients, a platter of fresh figs and amazing sheep’s milk cheese and a glass of Vinho Verde.

Next we moved to a little store next to the market selling Ginja, a Portuguese digestif made from sour cherries. Celia explained that one way of serving it was to sip it from a dark chocolate cup followed by eating said chocolate cup. Oh well, when in Rome Lisbon and all that…

ginja

Next it was a short walk to visit to a traditional grocery store where we were introduced to a number of ingredients essential to Portuguese cuisine. We also tried muxuma, a dried and cured tuna that tasted a lot like bacon to me. Quite delicious!

grocery-shopping

Clockwise from top left: Tinned fish is everywhere and there are so many brands; dried and salted cod or bacalhau which is soaked for at least a day before using it in any of a variety of dishes; pulses and grains are a big part of the Portuguese diet; carob pods.

Our next stop was the Cantina das Freiras which is linked to a charity dedicated to helping women in trouble. We entered a nondescript building in Chiado, took the elevator up and walked through the dining hall to be greeted by an amazing view of the Christo Rei across the River Tagus. We had a brief stop here to enjoy a cold glass of gazpacho and a home-made cod fritter in the sunshine.

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Our next stop was for lunch at Restaurante Vicente at the bottom end of Rua das Flores. We had an array of Portuguese dishes to try along with a(nother) bottle of red wine. I loved the delicate flavours in the octopus salad and I think everyone nominated the tempura green beans as a favourite.

We were pretty full by this time but Celia promised us that the walk up the hill to our final stop – for pasteis de nata – would be worth it. So off we waddled.

We made an unscheduled stop on the way at By The Wine – about halfway up Rua das Flores – for a cheeky glass of Portuguese muscat. Celia explained that this was not normally on the tour but as Chicky and I had originally booked for the tour on the Sunday evening prior and the guide had cancelled due to illness, this was by way of an apology from Culinary Backstreets. Apologise away I say!

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Top: The arched ceiling is lined with over 3,000 bottles Bottom: Gloriously golden muscat – when in Rome Lisbon…oh wait, I already said that…

Then we arrived. A tiny door led us off the bustling Largo de Camões into a narrow shop with a very special window into heaven…

manteigaria

Manteigaria fabrica de pasteis de nata make only Portuguese custard tarts and we stood at the window watching the staff cut the dough, form the bases, make and pour the custard and pop those little cups of delicious-ness in the oven….whilst sipping espresso and munching on the best pasteis de nata of our trip – by far! Celia said something about them using butter whilst most use margarine…but I barely heard and have already recommended this place to a number of people since I’ve been back in London including a colleague who is married to a Portuguese fella. She gave me a few recommendations before the trip and it gave me great joy to return the favour – she’s keen to check out this paragon to pasteis for herself when she’s there for Christmas with the family.

And with that (and before I exploded), the tour ended so we got some final recommendations from Celia (anyone been to Taberna do Mercado in London?), hugged good-bye and poured ourselves into a cab for the dash back to the hotel/airport.

So in summary, Lisbon is a foodie paradise. No matter whether you stick to a budget, embark on a culinary discovery tour or lash out at the top end (the latter I didn’t not experience directly but I overheard some people enthusing about this on the flight back), you could do a lot worse (and I have) travelling throughout Europe. And don’t worry about all of those pastries for breakfast/lunch/with coffee, you’ll definitely burn some calories walking around…and up…and down.

I’ve included some links below to help you with your foodie planning (don’t say I didn’t warn you) and I’ll be back with more of our Lisbon adventures soon.

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Our rooftop Caipirinha was at The Mundial, Praca de Martim Moniz

Our pasteis de nata trail: (from least to most favourite):

You’ll find information on our Lisbon Eats walking tour at https://culinarybackstreets.com/

A mosey ’round Merseyside (Liverpool #2)

The story so far…

Mum and I went to Liverpool over the Easter break. On Day 1 we did a Magical Mystery Tour, took the Ferry Across the Mersey, trawled through The Beatles Story and sweated it out at the Cavern Club. It was an excellent and very musically-themed beginning to our trip but there was much more to come. Here’s what happened next.

On Day 2, we started out with a City Explorer Bus Ride to orient ourselves with the other things to see and do in Liverpool. Our guide on the bus had a traditional Liverpudlian accent which Mum mentioned was sometimes hard to understand. Speaking of Mum here she is on the bus, taking photos (a common sight when one travels with my mother) and her version of rugging up against the blustery cold wind.

Mum in Liverpool

We then spent some time wandering around Albert Dock, taking more photos…

Albert Dock

Liverpool architecture

Top: The three graces of Liverpool Bottom: View from Albert Dock

…and visiting the International Slavery Museum.

Slave museum

We spent a couple of hours here. It was a great follow up to the Sugar and Slavery walking tour that I did in London in March and I must say that I left not only shocked by the legacy of the slave trade from the 15th and 16th centuries but devastated that slavery continues to prosper in places like India and Africa (just to name two).

We topped off our more leisurely day with a nanna nap back at the hotel before a fab dinner just around the corner at Jamie’s Italian (complete with a friendly waiter who had just returned from travelling in Australia).

Our final day dawned and with a mid-afternoon departure scheduled, we decided to spend our remaining time exploring on foot with a view to visiting Liverpool’s two cathedrals en route.

The streets behind the hotel yielded some interesting ‘art’…

Street scenes Liverpool

…but we did find our way to Chinatown…

Chinatown

…before heading to our first place of worship, the gothic-inspired Liverpool Cathedral.

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral - exterior

It was magnificent, full of soaring arches and stained glass. I particularly loved the intimacy and quiet of the Lady Chapel and the series of windows dedicated to some of the important women in English history…

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral - Chapel windows

After a fortifying coffee in the cathedral cafe, where we gazed out over the nave spotted with coloured light from the windows, it was time to head up Hope Street…

Suitcases

…to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

This is the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool and while it may not have the same traditional look as its Anglican counterpart at the other end of Hope Street, Paddy’s Wigwam (as it is also known) is Grade II listed. Originally the cathedral was to be the largest in Europe, planned to be on a par with St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City but after several years and millions of pounds invested, only the crypt was completed and work stopped as the money dried up.

However, it was generally acknowledged that Liverpool still needed a cathedral and so Frederick Gibberd, winner of a world-wide design competition, built the existing cathedral between 1962 and 1967. He managed to do this within both the time period specified (five years) and the one million pound budget as well as preserving the crypt which is now used for all sorts of events and concerts.

After I got over my shock at its modernity, the space and light really grew on me and after wandering through the crypt as well, I left feeling more inspired by this unconventional tribute to faith than the traditional magnificence of the Anglican Cathedral at the bottom of the hill.

There was not much time left to explore so we headed back to the hotel to collect our things and made our way to Lime Street Station to catch our train back to London – just in time! But here are a few of the other places we saw on our final foray through the streets of Liverpool…

Liverpool street scenes 2

Clockwise from top left: The Everyman Theatre stands at the top end of Hope Street opposite the Metropolitan Cathedral; The Monro Gastropub in Duke Street, a former merchant’s house built in 1765, was named in honour of the first passenger service scheduled between Liverpool and New York in 1817; St Luke’s Church was built in the early 1800s and was badly damaged in the Liverpool Blitz of 1941 – the ruins are Grade II listed; the Philharmonic Pub on Hope Street, another Grade II listed building, was built for local brewer Robert Cain at the end of the 19th century.

And so that, my friends, was our Merseyside mosey. Liverpool turned out to be a great city with plenty to see and do so I hope you enjoyed the armchair tour.

Liverpool Melodies

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted but I have a very good reason – Mum is visiting and last weekend we spent three nights in Liverpool. (Okay that’s two reasons.)

On Saturday afternoon we set off from London’s Euston Station and arrived a mite delayed after a signal failure coming into Crewe meant a further 75 minutes was added to our journey (although a retrospective bonus is that it’s also likely to yield a 50% refund on what we paid for our tickets – yippee!). By the time we walked to our hotel and checked in, we decided that dinner and an early night was the best preparation for the busy Sunday ahead of us.

Having navigated the change to British Summer Time successfully , we turned up on time at the Anchor Courtyard at Albert Dock ready to immerse ourselves in some The Beatles history on a Magical Mystery Tour

MMT Bus

The bus was hard to miss,  waiting at Albert Dock for our tour to begin.

The tour was two hours of fascinating anecdotes as the brightly coloured bus wound its way through the suburbs of Liverpool – past childhood homes, playing Fab Four classics and pausing for a few photo opportunities.

The first stop was Penny Lane, which is actually named for slave trader James Penny but more importantly was the location of the people from John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s youth that were made famous by their song of the same name – the friendly barber, the mac-less banker and the nurse selling poppies from a tray – all clustered around the bustling roundabout. We stopped at the ‘less famous’ end for our photo opp

Penny Lane

We stopped at the ‘less famous’ end of Penny Lane for our photos. On the right is our tour guide Jay Johnson, younger brother of Frankie Goes To Hollywood front man Holly Johnson.

Since we are speaking of famous song locations, we also dashed off the bus pre-downpour at Strawberry Field. Lennon’s nostalgic lyrics refer to his teenage years when this site was a hostel for young girls (a lot of whom were unmarried mothers) and he would sit in the branches of a nearby tree to check them out.

Strawberry Field

Strawberry Fields Forever and a photo opportunity for Mum

Our other two photo-opp stops were the birthplace of George Harrison at 12 Arnold Grove (below left) and the family home of the McCartney clan, now a National Trust property, in Forthlin Road (below right).

Homes

But we also paused at many other places including at the end of Madryn Street in Dingle – the birthplace of Ringo Starr – and outside The Empress, the pub around the corner which featured on the front cover of Ringo’s first solo album, A Sentimental Journey. There was also a pause outside Mendips, where John Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi from the age of five until he left in 1963, and a slow pass-by the St Peter’s church hall in Princes Street where John and Paul first met in 1957.

And throughout it all Jay kept regaling us with all sorts of stories and interesting facts and before we knew it, we were getting off the bus for the last time back in the centre of Liverpool and just down the road from the Beatles-inspired Hard Day’s Night hotel…

Hard Days Night Hotel

There’s a statue of each of the Fab Four along the front of the hotel and a shop which sells lots of memorabilia. But wait – could that be a fab fifth reflected in the sign?

After a well-earned coffee and a spot of lunch, we took a short spell from Beatle-mania to honour another part of Liverpool’s musical heritage by taking a ferry ride across the River Mersey…

Mersey Ferry

The song Ferry Cross the Mersey was made famous in 1965 by local band Gerry and the Pacemakers. Our crossing was…well let’s call it ‘brisk’- one minute bright and blue-skied then the next, drizzly and damply-grey – but definitely one of the things to ‘tick off’ during a visit here.

It was then back to the Fab Four and a visit to The Beatles Story where we spent another couple of hours poring over more stories and memorabilia…

The Beatles Story

The Beatles Story down at Albert Dock is well worth a visit. Leave yourself plenty of time, particularly if you want to listen to the audio tour and read all of the plaques and snippets along the way. And if you can, pre-book tickets to save waiting in line!

After our music-themed day, what better to cap it all off than with a visit to the Cavern Club, where John, Paul, George and Ringo played more than 290 times before they hit the big time. We saw Made in Liverpool, a fab Beatles tribute act…

Cavern Club

…before heading back to the hotel.

And that, my dear Gidday-ers, was just Day 1 of our Liverpool pilgrimage. Stay tuned for more of our Merseyside exploits – the  non-musical kind -soon…

Bitter Sweet

It’s been over a month since my last historic meander so I am pleased to report that yesterday I spent a couple of hours weaving through the City’s streets in an effort to discover more about London’s connections with slavery.

We all know it happened and movies like 12 Years a Slave and The Butler have raised the public consciousness in recent years. But these have been portrayals of slavery in America and the Caribbean. When you look at these depictions and think about the inter-continental trading relationships that underpinned this industry…

…a picture of Britain is noticeably absent.

So yesterday I met with Museum of London guide Mike (yes he of my Roman fort tour earlier this year) and along with about twenty others, embarked on Sugar and Slavery, a two hour walking tour around the key British institutions involved the slave trade.

Here’s how it went.

From our meeting point at the museum, we walked down Noble Street, pausing opposite the Goldsmith’s Company for Mike’s introduction to the slave trade, before heading down Gresham Street to Guildhall Yard.

The Guildhall Yard (site of Roman ampitheatre (640x360)

Entering Guildhall Yard from Gresham Street – the Yard is built on the site of the old Roman amphitheatre.

The guilds were organisations that represented the wide variety of trades – and as such controlled the various industries – operating in the City of London. In the 17th century, Guildhall was the central seat of justice for the guilds and many a legal battle was fought in Guildhall itself.

The Guildhall (640x360)

The Grade 1 listed Guildhall

Guildhall continues to be the administrative and ceremonial centre for the one square mile that constitutes the City of London. I remember watching Stephen Fry’s Key to the City a couple of years ago where he explored what it meant to have been awarded the ‘Freedom of the City’. He also attended a banquet here – it still seemed full of tightly-held traditions and much pomp and ceremony.

We headed out onto Lothbury Street, turned down Princes Street…

Bank of England (640x359)

The Bank of England, taken from the corner of Lothbury Street and Princes Street

…to reach Bank Junction where we stopped outside the Royal Exchange. The Threadneedle Street entrance to the bank loomed above us on one side and Mansion House, the official residence of the Mayor of the City of London stood across the traffic circle in front of us.

Mansion House (360x640)

Mansion House, official pad of the City’s Lord Mayor. No that’s not Boris Johnson – he’s the Mayor of Greater London which does not include the City. The current – and 688th – Lord Mayor of the City of London is Jeffrey Evans.

Royal Exchange (640x360)

A pause outside the Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange, founded by Thomas Gresham in 1565, operated much like today’s stock exchange – albeit without the technology – with traders and the city’s financial pundits going at it hammer and tongs from the opening to the closing bell. However, there was a point when it was suggested that business dealings should be negotiated outside the Exchange and so the emergence of coffee houses began.

You may be wondering what this all has to do with slavery – well, everything.

Slavery underpinned the British economy and pretty much allowed rich men to get even richer. Mike told us about one such man, David Lyle, an ‘absentee’ plantation owner who was also, by all accounts, a cruel master. It is recorded that Lyle pistol-whipped one of his slaves, Jonathan Strong and left him for dead on a London street. Strong was found by Granville Sharp – one of the first campaigners in Britain for the abolition of the slave trade – who nursed Strong and offered him work.

Legal battles ensued between Sharp and Lyle (once the latter learned that Strong was alive) with the Lord Mayor eventually pronouncing that Lyle had no claim as Strong was not ‘property’. This was the very same institution who legislated that slaves on ships could be thrown overboard – like possessions – should the captain believe his crew were in danger (eg. of starving due to provisions running out) and also supported the traders’ insurance claims to redeem losses from such activities.

But I digress.

The buying and selling of slaves moved out of the Royal Exchange (officially) and into coffee shops.

Jamaica Coffee House

The Jamaica Wine House (nee Coffee House) stands on the site of London’s first coffee house.

The importation of raw materials such as coffee and sugar flourished with this rise of informal ‘trading houses’ and a young West African could have his or her horrific fate sealed over this bitter brew sweetened with sugar.

We paused on Lombard Street near the Church of St Mary Woolnoth to hear about John Newton who, after years of trading and torturing slaves, reformed and became rector here in 1780. He gets a mention from me because along with poet William Cowper, he composed a book of hymns in the 1770s – the most famous of these ‘Olney Hymns’ was Amazing Grace…and I cannot tell you how many times I played that as a child when I started learning each of the recorder, clarinet, flute and violin.

We headed on past the Monument (that’s the one to the Great Fire of London) and down to the riverside by Old Billingsgate, Mike continuing to paint a picture of the sickness and fear that these men, women and children who’d been torn from their loved ones, faced firstly on-board the slave ships then upon their arrival, where they’d be poked and prodded like animals before being sold, and finally in being ‘seasoned‘ on the plantations of Barbados and Jamaica.

Our next to last stop was Lloyd’s of London, a towering metal edifice of power and money.

Lloyds of London

The original Lloyd’s of London was a coffee house in Lombard Street and as well as playing host to the wheeling and dealing of London’s businessmen, became known as a place where one could obtain marine insurance – much like it is today. That the slave trade was conducted across the Atlantic suggests that Lloyd’s too has its roots steeped in the horrors of human trafficking.

Just down a nearby alley stands the Gilt of Cain, a memorial to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 that was erected in 2008. It was a fitting way to end the tour.

Gilt of Cain (360x640)

I walked thoughtfully back to the tube station, comparing what I’d seen in movies with the stories of the people who perpetrated, fought and suffered that I’d just heard. There was so little humanity and dignity in each of the different stories that Mike had shared. Some of this I recalled as I walked but in essence, it felt like a fraction of the full story.

There’s a part of me that wants to learn more. While I’ve seen 12 Years a Slave – and found it viciously confronting – somehow each tale told over the two hours of the walking tour left more of a mark. I’m travelling to Liverpool next week, the largest of the old slave trading ports and home to the International Slavery Museum so it is a perfect opportunity.

But it also feels a bit raw – I feel appalled, my belief in the human spirit dented a little so while I will make the most of the educational opportunity that Liverpool will afford, it may be a little while before I venture into anything more.