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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

On balance

After a hiatus of more than six years, I have returned to yoga.

I have been wanting to supplement my twice weekly swimming with some core strength and flexibility work for a while now. I did a lot of Bikram yoga before I left Australia and for a year or so after I arrived in London and have dabbled in yoga of the cooler (by that I mean non-hot) variety and pilates as well. I have always loved the intensity and mindfulness of these types of activities as well as the centered feeling that comes afterwards.

A bit of googling a few weeks ago yielded a great yoga/pilates studio walking distance from Gidday HQ so for the last three weeks, I have relinquished my unscripted and lackadaisical Saturday mornings in exchange for this:

  1. The alarm goes off at 8am – I know…on a weekend. I lie there for 15 minutes wondering why I am doing this to myself.
  2. Stumble bleary-eyed to the bathroom and, avoiding eye-contact with the mirror, splash my face with cold water.
  3. Brush/flatten ‘bed hair’. My bed hair is a remarkable feat of vertical engineering that occurs every single night.
  4. Put one load of laundry in the washing machine on the express cycle. I’m up, may as well be productive (so I can be lazy later).
  5. Have vegetable juice and a yoghurt. Sounds noble but it’s really all I can manage first thing/pre-exercise. Don’t worry, I make up for this later.
  6. Get dressed.
  7. Transfer essentials from my handbag into my backpack.
  8. Hang the wet washing on the airer.
  9. Walk to the yoga studio (25 minutes).
  10. Groan and sweat for one hour at the same time as working out how to actually ‘switch on’ [insert name of muscle I have never heard of]. It’s multi-tasking at its best peeps.
  11. Walk home (25 minutes – again).
  12. Shower. It’s a surprisingly sweaty business this yoga (and no I’m not doing Bikram or hot yoga.)
  13. Eat!

And that peeps, is my new Saturday morning.

I’ve followed this new routine for three weeks and on balance, the news is good:

  • Morning backache has disappeared and I’m feeling longer, stronger and looser-limbed than I have felt for years.
  • I’m breathing – deeply – again. And given my easily distracted disposition, I hope that I’m also reaping the benefits of a few meditative moments at the start and end of every class practice (and re-learning the lingo).

You may have noticed that I said ‘on balance’ and that is my struggle. Tree pose was never my forte and my balance, unlike a fine wine, has not improved with age. But I do my best to spread my toes and draw up and yet I wiggle and lurch about, falling on my a**e at least once a class practice. It is somewhat chastening but yoga is supposed to be about letting go of ego and let’s face it, a little less ego never did anyone any harm.

Coming down to earth – literally – also reminds me to pay attention to what I am doing, feeling and ‘switching on’.

worrier-pose

I actually fell out of Warrior pose yesterday trying to work out what to ‘switch on’.

But I am hooked and have booked next week’s class practice already – there is something about actually booking a place that makes me go rather than succumb to more than 15 minutes of wake-up wondering after the alarm goes off – and I’m hoping to bring a little balance and mindful breathing into the week ahead.

Wishing you all a peaceful and mindful week.

Namaste

The Pearl Fishers

Let me start by saying I am not an opera buff. I had never been when I lived in Australia and up until about a year ago, I had seen only The Magic Flute and Tosca in the 11 years I’d lived in London. I did enjoy them (more so The Magic Flute) but did not really fall in love with opera and the high ticket prices made me question whether I was really up for exploring more.

However opera has gotten savvy and has been reaching out to woo new audiences with Live Screenings. Streaming from the English National Opera at the London Coliseum or Glyndebourne on England’s South Downs, local cinemas have become the new place to experience opera and at a far more accessible price. Aside from getting a fantastic ‘close-up’ view, there are usually introductions to the story, interviews with the stars and creative team and subtitles throughout so it is a gently educational experience as well. I’ve become a bit of a fan and have enjoyed Mozart’s The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, a Ravel double bill – L’heure espagnole and L’enfant et les sortileges – and Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado.

Last night I paid a visit to my local cinema, The Phoenix in East Finchley, and added another to my repertoire: The Pearl Fishers. Les Pecheurs de Perles was composed by Frenchman Georges Bizet and was first performed in Paris in 1863. It’s a love triangle set in ancient Ceylon (now Sri Lanka): The story of two pearl divers, Nadir and Zurga, and the consequences of their love for the priestess Leila. Bizet had some public success when this opened but critics were not so enamoured – in fact, Bizet struggled to reach any sort of critical acclaim in his career until Carmen, which opened ten years later.

Last night’s performance was by the MET Opera in New York. It was beautiful – a visual feast with an intricate tiered set, spectacular lighting and video effects and cast with a clamour of ‘villagers’. The opening score was accompanied by the most breathtaking ‘underwater’ sequence…two pearl divers, swimming in soft blue and lit from above to replicate the sun on the water – this stunning piece of choreography really set the tone for the rest of the production.

Musically it was glorious too. The score washed over the auditorium, ebbing and flowing much like the waves lapping the shores of the village, and voices were exquisite. The three lead roles comprise a soprano (Leila), a tenor (Nadir) and a baritone (Zurga). The Friendship Duet sung by Matthew Polenzani (Nadir) and Mariusz Kwiecien (Zurga), the pearl fishers, was full of poignant promise and as Leila, Diana Damrau played her soprano more like an instrument than merely a voice.

During the intermission, there were interviews with the three stars and the conductor as well as a look at how the stunning opening sequence – those underwater pearl divers – was created including a chat with the divers themselves. In the past, I’ve felt a bit put off by opera’s diva reputation but the interviews revealed passionate, everyday and extraordinarily talented people.

After two and a half hours, I made my way home feeling completely delighted by the whole experience. The Pearl Fishers has become my favourite opera and I would never have discovered it if the only route open to me was the traditional, opera-house visit. It put me in two minds, the first being wanting to see more and so this morning I booked to see the MET’s live screening of Elektra in April. But the second is that last night has inspired me to visit the traditional – I would love to experience The Pearl Fishers live.

So opera – by making access to its artistry local and affordable – has managed to tap a potentially richer seam in this patron’s future pockets.

Clever, clever opera.

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A fitting venue …waiting for the show to begin at the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley

Literary London…

For those of you who keep an eye on my literary forays – whether through The Book Nook or on Good Reads – you’ll know that my Year in Books has gotten off to somewhat of a prolific start. Having set my yearly target at 54 books (that’s one a week then bumped up to match last year’s tally), I am already reading #24. That’s right – three shy of the halfway mark and only 25% of the year gone. 

So I was walking up to North Finchley last week and noticed this street poster for CityRead London.


Intrigued I came home, googled and found out about this wonderful initiative.

Launched in 2012, CityRead London is an annual literary festival held in April each year which is designed to have us read a little something about London…together. Then throughout the month, the book is brought to life with literary events and talks in borough libraries all over the capital. This year it’s Louisa Young’s My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You, a love story set during the first World War. Released early in 2011, this book was short-listed for the Wellcome Prize, the Costa Novel Award and The National Book Awards that same year.

There has been a plethora of authors eager to showcase London and all of its charms over the centuries (think back to Charles Dickens in the 1800s who actually wrote part of Martin Chuzzlewit just up the road here in Finchley). So the choice must have been a challenging one with so much to choose from but for all its accolades, I had not heard of Young or this particular book.

I love reading about this wonderful city: its history, its place in the modern world or simply as a backdrop to a cracking story. One of my very favourite books of the last few years is John Lanchester’s Capital so with all of this London literary love in mind, I have Amazon One-Click-ed Young’s war tale to Audrey‘s lovely e-pages. 

What an inspired and clever way to promote reading (and to get me to download yet another book to my kindle this week).

A Skip In My Step…

So the great Chicky Adventure is done and my sibling partner in crime has arrived back on the other side of the world (and is working through her jet lag by all accounts). 

It was such an amazing two weeks – firstly for the unadulterated ‘just us’ time, secondly for the opportunity for me to introduce her to this amazing city I call home, and thirdly for our shared pilgrimage to Amsterdam, Dad’s childhood home, and the delicacies we enjoyed in memory of our Oma and Opa.

I’ve been meaning to pick up the blogging ‘pencil’ again over the last few days but I have felt so full of everything we did that I haven’t known where to start. The anticipation of Lil Chicky’s first trip here. The pride in the sharing of my new hometown and experiencing its fabulous-ness through her ‘new’ eyes. The privilege of helping her celebrate her 40th birthday. The sheer intensity of spending 2 weeks – 24/7 – together for the first time since…well forever. 

All underpinned by a lifetime of sisterly memories, the effortless and uncomplicated recall of funny stories, childhood scrapes and sibling rivalry, and squillions of photos… 

…including a few selfies.

DAY 2: Fab Finchley – looking for coffee in the pouring rain.
DAY 3: Can’t go to London without visiting the Queen.
DAY 4: Hamers do ‘the henge’ (squeezed between visits to Salisbury and Bath). Technically not a selfie thanks to a kind Aussie chap on the tour, but close enough.


There’s a small selfie gap here while we undertook birthday celebrations (part one – The Mousetrap and dinner in Covent Garden – and two – Pret-a-Portea at The Berkeley)…

DAY 5: Fashionista food at the Berkeley

…Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, Globe Theatre and a visit to Carnaby Street.

DAY 6: Yes, we bought these. Because we had to get out of the rain. And the Irregular Choice shop was just there. Really.


Then we went to Amsterdam…

DAY 9: Arriving at Amsterdam’s Central Station about 2 minutes before torrential rain…
Waiting for our first poffertjes (teeny tiny pancakes served with butter and icing sugar and eaten with a toothpick) of the pigrimage trip in Dam Square.


(More on Amsterdam in a later post).

After 4 days, we returned to London, hired a car and drove first to Silverstone and then to Donington Circuits to tick a few things off Lil Chicky’s motorsport bucket list. Looks like Day 13 was a lucky one…

The Winners’ Podium at Silverstone – cheesy but had to be done.


We decided to take Day 14 easy with a visit to the Museum of London after the ‘wild storm‘ had abated…and when Day 15 dawned bright and blue-skied (if a little chilly), there was just one thing left to do…

DAY 15: It endeth on The Eye – our last sibling selfie of the trip.
Full of our time together and tired from our two weeks of tourist-ing, we said our emotional good-byes at Heathrow last Tuesday. After I’d waved until she’d disappeared behind the security barrier, I made the long trip home to Gidday HQ. It’s still my warm and cosy haven but a little quieter. And yellow banner of the Money Shop, which became our welcoming ‘nearly home’ beacon as we turned into my street each night, has now taken on a new and poignant significance. Another memory, meaningless to anyone else but enough to inspire a skip in my step…

…one that only Lil Chicky will understand.

Kindred Spirits…

Each evening as the 82 bus trundles north up Finchley Road and navigates the lights at Henly’s Corner I find myself cheered by the thought of just a few more stops before I’m off for the short walk home. Henly’s Corner can be a nightmare for the traffic if things go wrong but most nights, it’s a fairly seamless crossing to deliver passengers to the bus stop on the other side so my optimism is usually well-placed.

As you reach the other side of the North Circular and start up Regents Park Road, there’s a big green ‘space’ to the left. It seems an odd place to position a patch of nature, right next to the heaving flow of traffic. Even odder is the statue – a naked woman raising her arms to the sky, her sword in one uplifted hand. As the bus merges back into the traffic from the stop, her brazen profile stands stark against the urban ‘wallpaper’ behind her. A silent silhouette, triumphant and still, while I sit, usually oblivious, immersed in my post-workday literary feast. 

Image source: Wikipedia

But a few weeks ago, too tired to read, I spent the entire journey from West Hampstead gazing out of the window and as I saw her, arms uplifted, I wondered how she came to be there. What’s the story here, I wondered?

So out came my trusty HTC One and before long I had the answer.

The Naked Lady (real name La Délivrance) was purchased by Lord Rothermere (the family of The Daily Mail fame) in 1920 and gifted to the district of Finchley. Initially local officials, in need of a war memorial, planned to place the statue – created to celebrate the first battle of Marne which prevented the Germans from capturing Paris in 1914 – at the entrance to Victoria Park. But our well-heeled aristocrat put his foot down – the current location or not at all – and so the statue was unveiled in its current location by Prime Minister David Lloyd-George in 1927.

The Naked Lady is the creation of French sculptor Émile Oscar Guillaume and stands, a bronzed 16 feet tall, at the southern edge of Finchley.

A bronzed goddess hey?

I always knew I’d find kindred spirits in Fab Finchley.


ps…speaking of kindred spirits, there are only 19 sleeps to go until my very own sibling kindred spirit arrives…la deliverance indeed!

London Love…Fab Finchley

It’s been a little while since I shared a Fab Finchley foray with you so here’s the post to remedy that.

Yesterday I was off for a visit to the physiotherapist. While not the first physiotherapist I have ever encountered, it was in fact the first visit to this particular one who lives a short stroll away on the other side of my local park.

So last night I set off in the warm sunshine (yes still very warm at ten minutes to six o’clock) and before long my strolling took me across Victoria Park. London has been blessed with a few glorious weeks of summer (the newspapers are calling it a heatwave *guffaw*) and the park was dotted with people making the most of the weather – kids, runners, families, dog walkers. It seemed that everyone was moseying around the paths, enjoying a moment on a shaded bench or sprawling on the grass beneath the bright blue sky.

I had walked almost entirely across the park when I was struck by how vibrant and lush it looked. It wasn’t that there were loads of flowers out as there are at other times (I found my first daffs of the season here) but it seemed that everywhere I looked was literally vibrating with energy and colour.

Stopped in my tracks by the beauty of this scene, I turned around to see this.

 

I smiled quietly to myself. For a few moments I stood there, taking it all in, before turning back and heading on to my appointment.

And it reminded me once again how much I love living here.


ps…regular Gidday-ers maybe wondering about the lack of birthday posting since the big day on August 1st. It’s been a busy ol’ time but rest assured I’ll be updating you soon…

Ye Olde Bucket List…Part One

It’s been a busy few days since my last post and I’ve been having a rather splendid time enjoying some of what the English do best…namely Shakespeare and sporting banter. So you lucky, lucky Gidday-ers get two posts.

I know. Two for the price of one. That’s got to be an offer you can’t possibly refuse.

Macbeth came first.

To provide a little context for this rather tragic inclusion on ye olde bucket list, all of that ‘double double toil and trouble’ stuff has been running around in my head since High School when I studied the play as part of the English curriculum in Year 11 and then revisited it in Year 12 English Literature.

And the fun didn’t stop there. Lo and behold, Macbeth was also the Shakespearean text in my first semester of literature at University. That’s three times in three years. The Merchant of Venice the following term was a breath of fresh air.

Anyway I’ve never actually seen the play. Ever. Not even a movie adaptation.

So on Saturday night I settled into my seat at The Phoenix Cinema (my lovely local) and watched a live transmission from the Manchester International Festival. Kenneth Branagh co-directed (with Rob Ashford) and took the leading role with Alex Kingston (of ER fame) as Macbeth’s lady wife by his side.

The set wasn’t a theatre but a deconsecrated church so the live audience sat either side of the central aisle and watched the action unfold…on the grassy verge in the middle. The rains came down, battles were won and lost, murder most foul committed and vengeance served in the end.

It was absolutely brilliant, Branagh was breath-taking…

…and Macbeth finally got ticked off the bucket list.

But the weekend wasn’t yet over.

Tomorrow I’ll let you know what else got ticked off.

Cut To The Heart…

I love my street. It is a wonderful street to live in. It’s chock full of old semi-detached houses with amazing architecture, intricate decorative detail and gorgeous leadlight windows which come alive when I walk along the footpath at night.


During the day, it’s a leafy avenue lined with a magnificent array of trees that signal the passing seasons with their colour and bloom. And there’s a particular tree that signals the entrance to Gidday HQ. It’s verdant boughs cast a familiar shape across the sky as I gaze out of the window from my lazy-weekend-morning pillow and I’ve watched it transform from stripped bare to a riot of pink blossoms to its recent coat of rich, deep red.


So I was devastated to arrive home one evening last week to find this.

Finchley Council…not so fabulous!

Your 2012 Five A Day – November

Well October, Halloween and British Summer Time are behind us and chilly mornings, darker evenings and cosy nights in are here for the foreseeable future. And both November and this month’s Violent Veg pay tribute to a great British tradition.

Bonfire night on the 5th November celebrates the capture of Guy Fawkes, he of the infamous Gunpowder Plot. In 1605, 13 royally disenchanted men planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I. Fawkes was caught below the House of Lords with his fingers in the barrel, so to speak and was taken captive, tortured and executed. To celebrate the safety of their King, the people lit bonfires and burned effigies of Guy Fawkes and in doing so, guaranteed every British kid’s expectation of November 5th celebrations – fireworks.

Unfortunately it seems that Eddie’s enthusiasm for tradition has been a little misplaced…


This time last year, I was unpacking boxes here at Gidday HQ, hoping to get my new pad sorted before returning to work. I heard the crackle and hiss of local fireworks nearby and upon standing at the back door to check things out, was delighted to find I could watch the lot from the warmth of my new kitchen. Just another Fab Finchley bonus.

Hope you find something that lights your fire this November.

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