The never ending bank saga…

There are lots of things I love about Portugal: the weather, the food, the beautiful city of Lisbon, the low cost of every day things, the relaxed pace of life…

And there are other things I don’t like: the relaxed pace of life, the bureaucracy…

I’ve been engaged in a terrible, elemental struggle with the bank since we first moved here. Hollywood could make a movie out of it. I can hear the voiceover now: One woman’s struggle to get a debit card, against all odds…

Way back in September, one of the first things we did was open a Portuguese bank account, so that I could get paid, and we could pay for stuff without converting money endlessly in small amounts from pounds to euros.

We tried several different banks, who wanted to charge us a fortune, or there was some other problem, and then we found Bankinter. Everyone there speaks excellent English, and it was surprisingly easy. We gave our airbnb address as our address, and apart from that we only needed ID and to fill in a bunch of forms.

Quite quickly, we had a bank account and they sent our bank cards and pin numbers. So far, so good!

And then, I had a small disaster. My bank card was swallowed up by a broken machine the very first time I tried to use it!

I cancelled the card.

Luckily Froglet still had his card, but I felt a bit silly, always having to ask him for money.

We moved to a differnt air bnb, so we didn’t have proof of address, and then finally we moved into our current flat, and signed a contact, so that in November I finally had proof of address and could order a new card.

I went to the bank to change our address – you can’t do this online or over the phone of course, and the bank is only open from 9am until 3pm.  I asked them to send a new card.

Which they must have done, but to our first address, as I never received a card, and about three weeks later we got notification that our address had been changed.

That’s Portuguese bureaucracy for you. Portuguese Bureaucracy – it could make a nice follow-up to guns ‘n’ roses ‘Chinese Democray’ – you wait for ages for it and then it turns out to be rubbish.

Anyway, it’s lucky I wasn’t in a hurry, wasn’t it?

So, I cancelled the card again. I asked for a new card.

And, incredibly, it arrived withing two weeks! And I got a new pin number! All I had to do was activate the card.

Unfortunately my wallet was stolen, along with the un-activated card, that very same day.

So I cancelled the card.

Now I have to find the time to go to the bank (before 3pm) and order a new card. Perhaps one day I’ll actually get to use it.

And now I’m even more helpless and dependent on Froglet than I was before – I can’t even use my UK cards, should I need to buy something. That’s all very well if I need a small amount of money so I can go for a coffee with a friend or cover emergencies, but what if I want to go shopping or something?

I guess it’s good in a way, because I’ll save a lot of money. But what if I actually want to spend some money??!!!

I am also pretty annoyed that my wallet was stolen in Lisbon, one of Europe’s safest cities, while in London, one of the higher-crime cities, nothing like that ever happened.

It was stolen out of my bag, along with my umbrella, somewhere around Martim Moniz, which is a notoriously dodgy area, so I feel doubly annoyed that I was off my guard. Luckily I had very little money in my wallet, but it’s a really big hassle, and my travel card, which did have about 10 euros on it, has gone as well.

A giant rooster sculpture (the symbol of Portugal) at Martim Moniz
A giant rooster sculpture (the symbol of Portugal) at Martim Moniz

Anyway, keep your fingers crossed for me and hope that one day, one day… my card will come. And I’ll actually get to use it.

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Living out of my suitcase for three months: packing and minimalist travel

Froglet and I arrived in Lisbon on 1st September, with two large suitcases, a small suitcase and a backpack. Three months later, we moved into a long-term appartment and had our ‘stuff’ – 25 boxes of it – delivered by a removal company.

In the meantime we lived in airbnbs with very little ‘stuff’.

I think I’ve learned some useful things from the experience.

My packing was pretty good. Initially I was pretty annoyed to be lugging jumpers, a jacket and a pair of boots around with me, but when November finally rolled around I felt incredibly smug. Winter in Lisbon isn’t super cold, but it’s not hot either. I also brought my laptop, phone, kindle, and a folder full of important documents and multiple printed copies of my cv. I brought a lot of teabags with me, which was great because English breakfast tea is sold in tiny packages at very high prices prices in Lisbon.

The only thing I regretted bringing was my hairdryer, which I didn’t need becasue we stayed in airbnbs equipped with one. The only things I actively missed while we didn’t have them were speakers to listen to music properly, a good kitchen knife, and my yoga mat. Exercising on the floor is rubbish.

But mostly I’ve learned that minimalism is a bit of a silly concept. You really do need lots of things to live comfortably. It’s nice to have more clothes, and to have my familiar knick knacks back again, but the things you really need are boring, practical items like a good kitchen knife, bedding, tea towels, mugs, extension leads, etc.

Before leaving London, Froglet and I had a huge clear out. Neither of us wanted to pay for the storage and transportation of things we didn’t really need. We started about a year before we left, which was just as well, because two people who share a flat for five years can accumulate a massive amount of stuff.

Lots and lots of things went to the tip. Old, broken electronics, pots of half-used paint, planks of wood – random things like that. Clothes and lots of crockery and knick-knacks went to the charity shop.

We also got rid of about two thirds of our books. We went through them several times, culling and culling again. I sold most of the unwanted books using a fantastic service called Ziffit, and made about £250. We also sold all of our CDs on Ziffit. The internet and e-books means there’s no need for CDs, DVDs or books any more. I know some people feel senitmental about their books, and I did feel a pang about parting with some of them, but honestly, the chances that I’m going to read most them again are almost zero. If I want to, I can get them again for almost nothing.

In fact, when our boxes arrived in Lisbon Froglet and I agreed that we’d been silly to keep so many books, and that we can easily cull the remainder again.

We’ve decided to continue in the spirit of minimalism and go through our stuff again next month and see what else we haven’t used and can dispose of. You have to keep on top of this or you suddenly find you have a great avalanche of stuff – even if you’re not really a shopper or a hoarder, things just gather themselves.

There’s been quite a trend for discussing how people have too much ‘stuff’ these days, and how to manage it. A strange first-world problem. But it’s odd that there’s now a cult of minimalism, akin to the cult of thinness. Abundance is no longer the mark of the wealthy: discipline is.

There are some sensible reasons for this: digital culture means we don’t need so many physical objects, buying things has an environmental impact, and a cluttered home is unpleasant to live in. Plus, clutter makes it diffult to find things. I’ve frequently bought stuff like envelopes, only to discover weeks later that we already have about three million envelopes, I just couldn’t find them.

But I don’t think there’s anything morally superior about having few possessions. Some people prefer to have houses stuffed with knick-knacks. Some people have hobbies that require lots of materials – why not? And anyone who says they have only one suitcase full of things is either lying or deluded about of useful they’re being provided with by air bnb, their mum, or whoever they live with.

It still felt great to have a clear out, though. Here are some tips for ‘decluttering’. Of course, you could buy into the ‘Marie Kondo‘ method and ask ‘does it spark joy?’ But that is absurd. Tea towels are never going to spark joy in anyone, but you need them.

Here’s the Kate method instead:

Is that something that ‘might come in handy’? – it won’t. Get rid of it.

Is that something that ‘might fit me again one day’? – it won’t. Get rid of it.

Is that something that ‘I might repair one day’? – you won’t. Get rid of it.

Is that something that ‘might be worth some money one day’? – what are you waiting for? sell it – sell it now.

The most important thing to remember is ‘if in doubt, chuck it out.’

Things you need to keep are things you actually use on a regular basis, and things that you use irregularly but would cost a lot of money to replace.

One of the really fun things we did was to use the ‘use it or lose it’ method. This meant using up odd herbs, spices and cooking ingredients, the remains of beauty product gift sets, unloved flavours of herbal tea – stuff like that. We pulled things out of cupboards and just decided to either use up that odd jar of chilli sauce this week, or to chuck it away then and there. We had a lot of really odd meals but we saved a surprising amout of money and it was incredibly satisfying. Using things up became a fun project.

I’m going to continue with this method. I just finished unpacking my last box, and discovered I have about 20 kinds of nail varnish. So I’m going to make a serious effort to actually paint my nails over the next couple of months, and if I don’t – well then all those varnishes are going in the bin. I’ll either have fun painting my nails, or I’ll accept that I’m too lazy to do so and therefore get rid of some pointless clutter. It’s actually an exciting win-win situation!

Enjoy your January clear outs!

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A day trip to Sintra

Last weekend Froglet went to Frogland, so I had to entertain myself. The weather was nice, so I took a day trip to Sintra, where I visited Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle.

First, I went into the centre of town and ate a Traversserio –  a ‘bolster’. These Portuguese delicaies are puff pastry filled with a sort of custard, in this case almond flavoured. And delicious, of course.

There is a tourist bus that goes to the palace and the castle from the train station, but I had the whole day so I walked. It’s not really that far, it’s just that it’s all uphill. I basically spent an hour climbing stairs. I’m getting better at climbing stairs, because you can’t go anywhere in Lisbon without having to tackle steep flights of stairs or twelve. Even so, I puffed and panted my way up and had take frequent stops to take off all the clothes that I decently could and stuff them in my bag.

I followed a trail through landscaped gardens. I still can’t get used to seeing cacti, banana plants and cheese plants outdoors, just growing there casually like it’s no big deal. So tropical! It was well worth the climb for the nice landscape, the sense of achievement and the beautiful views at the top.

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For some reason there were loads of French people in Sintra. I keep thinking that I’ve had some kind of breakthrough in Portuguese and am starting to understand what people say say, and be able to follow conversations – then realising that they’re speaking French, not Portuguese.

The Moorish Castle is a very satisfying castle, complete with plenty of battlements. It was built by the Moors in the 8th or 9th Century AD, though there are the remains of even more ancient settlements there. It was a properly defensive, fighting sort of castle, but ceded to the Christians without a fight in the 1100s. After that it gradually became a picturesque ruin.

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Pena Palace was more of a summer retreat for the Portuguese royal family. Originally there was a chapel on the top of the hill in medieval times, then a monastery. In the mid-nineteenth century King Ferdinand II ordered it renovated as a royal summer retreat. I don’t think it’s a surprise that King Ferdinand II was a German, and that a German architect designed the palace. It’s a nineteenth century fairy-tale fantasy castle. It reminded me a lot of King Ludwig II’s fairy tale castles in Germany, of the same period. It looks gloriously mad, to be honest, with turrets and battlements and a clock tower and all sorts of carvings in styles ranging from faux-Islamic to faux-gothic and romantic. The outside is painted in a fetching combination of yellow, lilac and Cranberry.

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From the terraces, you can see all the way to Lisbon and out to the sea. The day was quite misty, so I couldn’t get a good picture though.

You can go inside, but it’s not super interesting. There was a cool chandelier shaped like glass bindweed, but mostly one nineteenth century aristocratic house looks pretty much like another, and there aren’t even any famous paintings here. These tiles in the old cloister disturbed me though – why oh why do they not match??

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The palace has a lot of grounds, but I didn’t have time to visit them properly because I didn’t want to walk back down in the dark. I’d like to go back again another time and see the greenhouses and the lake etc.

The Practicalities:

Trains run from Lisbon to Sintra about every 30 minutes, starting from Rossio station downtown, and stopping at many local stops. The journey takes about 40 minutes, and you can use a regular Lisbon travel card to get there. It costs about E4.30. You can find out more from this very useful website.

A joint ticket to Pena Palace and the Moorish castle costs E17. You can purchase them on the site, or on this website.

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A visit to the MAAT museum and the Coach Museum in Belem

Froglet and I try to get out at the weekend and visit something new and interesting in or around Lisbon. It could be a walk through a different part of town, a trip to a park or a tourist attraction, or just trying out a different shopping centre to our usual one.  It would be a shame to live in a whole new country and get complacent about it – I like to keep discovering new things.

A couple of weeks ago we took the bus the suburb of Belem. I’ve been there before for the custard tarts and the monastery, but this time we went to MAAT – The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology.

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But before we got there, we had a little custard tart to get our museum strength up. Museums can be tiring, so it’s important to eat a lot of cake and have frequent coffee breaks when you’re getting cultured.

Then we made the ridiculous mistake of visiting the wrong museum! We accidentally found ourselves paying to go to the Coach Museum, which was not at all what we expected. Clearly we hadn’t eaten nearly enough cake.

A very gold coach
A very gold coach

The coach museum is a brilliant place to visit if you are really, really interested in coaches. If, for example, you are a the prop master or set designer for a costume drama and you need to select exactly the right kind of carriage for your actors to ride around in. For me and Froglet it really wasn’t that interesting. Froglet did express a moderate interest in the development of suspension systems for coaches, but there wasn’t any information about the coaches, except which historical Portuguese people rode in them. Portuguese museums need to step up their interpretation game. Following a very boring walk Froglet and I did, he said ‘the best thing about this walk is that we’ve done it now, so we never have to do it again,’ and I feel the same about the coach museum. There’s nothing wrong with it at all as a museum, it’s just not a topic that interests me.

After that we finally proceeded to MAAT.

The museum is housed in Lisbon’s old electricity plant, and had exhibitions on landscape art, architecture, video art, and Charles and Ray Eames. The Eames exhibition must be a travelling one, because it was in London a while back. I wanted to see it but never made it, so I was really pleased to see it here in Lisbon. The Eames’ were modernist designers of homes, furniture and toys. They’re probably most famous for the Eames chair. They were also interested in education and the possibilities of using early computers for learning. The exhibition was really interesting and quite inspirational. It’s amazing to see how incredibly optimistic people were in the 1950s and 60s. They really thought they could use design and mass-production to shape the future and build a better world for the masses, and were incredibly innovative and hopeful and forward-looking. There’s not a lot of that about at the moment is there?

I was very taken with the Eames house of cards, a set of beautifully designed cards with slots so you can build them into different forms. I wanted to buy a set in the giftshop, but can you believe it, there was no gift shop!! No coffee shop either. I wonder how museums in Lisbon keep going? The entry fee is low, and they don’t have anywhere else you can spend money. In London, most museums dedicate almost half their space to shops, cafes and private members rooms, as well as charging you an arm and a leg for the temporary exhibits. I can only assume that in Lisbon museums receive a decent amount of government funding or sponsorship.

The other exhibitions didn’t interest me much, but Froglet was incredibly excited that the workings of the electricity station are still intact and you can visit them. All the boilers, coolers, furnaces, pipes, etc are still there. There’s lots of interpretation on how it all worked, including some fun things – you can walk through the furnace, and there are furnace-like noises playing, and the bottom is covered with glowing ‘coals’ and bathed in red light. It would be really cool for kids. There’s lots of information about life in the power station in the 1920s and beyond, which was really fascinating. Coal-fired power stations were incredible feats of engineering and very sophisticated, but at the same time weirdly primitive with terrible, dangerous working conditions.

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The museum also has a brand-new extension, a fabulously futuristic pod-shaped structure with an oval central room. This had a modern art installation, supposedly a human zoo where aliens watch people at play. You could go into the room and then play with some giant swiss exercise balls, and the doors automatically locked for a while. I enjoyed rolling about the balls, I didn’t enjoy the many instructions on all the ways we weren’t allowed to play with the balls. The idea of a human zoo is very old conceit in sci-fi and not very well done.

All in all I really enjoyed MAAT. It’s a great space and there was one really interesting exhibition. I’m sure I’ll go there again and I hope they have more interesting exhibitions.

The practicalities:

MAAT costs 5 euros, or 2.50 for students and seniors. It’s open from 12pm until 8 every day, except Tuesdays, when it’s closed, and Christmas Day.

The coach museum is open from 10am until 6pm every day except Mondays, and costs 6 euros.

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We accidentally went to the best seafood restaurant in Lisbon, but unfortunately I don’t eat seafood…

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A comedic series of unfortunate events and cultural misunderstandings

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One of those things that’s pretty terrible at the time but at least it makes a good anecdote afterwards

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The unexpected perils of house hunting in Lisbon

 

Froglet and I have finally found an proper, long-term rental apartment we want to move into, and signed a contract on it and paid a deposit, though we can’t actually move there until November. This has been a lengthy and tedious process and much more difficult than I imagined. I don’t think it’s worse in Lisbon than in London, it’s just that I haven’t moved for ages so I’d forgotten how time-consuming and stressful it is.

After agreeing about the rental with our new landlords in principle, they invited us to stay with them for the weekend in the AirBnB room of their apartment in Cascais. As our first AirBnB was due to run out on the 30th September, and we couldn’t move into the next one until the 1st October, this was perfect: we’d get to know each other, and we’d have a free night of accommodation instead of staying in a hotel for a night.

So far so good.

We lugged all our baggage on the bus and train over to Cascais, and got picked up by our new landlady. I will call her Miss P, as in ‘Miss Portugal,’ because she’s very glamorous and beautiful. Miss P told us that there had been a mix-up, and their room was now being rented out by someone else, but she had secured another AirBnB for us to stay in, and paid for it. Very, very nice of her and saved us a lot of money.

The place was fine, but the ceilings were comically low, especially in the bathroom, which had been squeezed into a cupboard-like space full of odd angles. Froglet is tall, so he kept hitting his head on the door frame. Plus,  he didn’t have space to stand to use the toilet, but all those odd angles meant he couldn’t really sit on it either. So bathroom visits were a bit of an ordeal for him. The whole place was also decorated in a surreal faux-African safari style, complete with shelves full of insects preserved in perspex, and mounted ostrich eggs.

Miss P and her fiance, who I shall call Papa P, because he’s a kind of patriarchal figure, wanted us to go out to dinner together.

So far so good.

I contemplated wearing a checked black and white dress, but decided that it was a bad idea to wear something with white bits on it to a restaurant, as I was bound to spill something on it. I wore a black top and a skirt in instead. Along with my trusty Birkenstock sandals, because I didn’t really have anything else with me except trainers, and it was hot.

They collected us by car at 10pm, half an hour late, because ‘We’re Portuguese, so we’re crazy and like to eat in the middle of the night.’

Papa P was wearing shorts, espadrilles and a short sleeve T-shirt barely done up over his round, tanned torso, but the gorgeous Miss P was wearing a tiny, pristine white mini dress and a pair of stilettos made of lace. Immediately I felt like a hippo in a ballet class. Obviously we should never compare ourselves to other people, I know that, but it’s so difficult not to.

Papa P then drove us all the way back to Lisbon again, though luckily it only takes half an hour in the car. He happily swigged beer while driving. I don’t think it was his first bottle. The worst thing about that was the beer was Superbock, and we’re Sagres people. But Sagres sponsor Benfica (a Lisbon team), and Superbock sponsor Oporto, and Papa P is an Oporto man.

There was a lengthy discussion about which restaurant to go to. In the end Papa P announced we would go to the best seafood restaurant in Lisbon, Cervejaria Ramiros. He knows the owners and is a regular, which meant we would simply barge our way past the queue and up to a table. As vegetarian recently turned fussy pescatarian, I was a bit concerned about seafood, which I don’t really eat, but I thought a seafood place would be fine – I could just eat fish. Everywhere in Lisbon serves white fish, even if they don’t serve anything vegetarian. Right?

I went vegetarian when I was 13. A few years after Froglet and I got together I started eating fish, because it’s extremely difficult to visit France as a vegetarian. I mean it’s not impossible, especially if you’re on your own, you self-cater, you go to touristy places, but Froglet’s family like going to restaurants and eating meat, and unless you only ever go out to eat pizza, it’s really difficult to accommodate. It just makes things so much easier and avoids lots of social embarrassment and awkwardness: you can simply pretend to be a normal person and go to normal places and keep everyone happy. But I don’t really eat seafood. I ate mussels for a bit but then went off them. I don’t like the weird rubbery texture or the taste of seafood things, they all look a bit gross, and I am squeamish.

We arrived in Lisbon and a friendly dude, who may or may not have been a tramp, directed Papa P to squeeze the car into a tiny space, giving just enough room for the tram to pass by. Miss P glided elegantly across the dangerous cobblestones on her towering heels, while I lumbered along after her. Papa P pushed confidently past the crowd, and we went upstairs past tanks of lobsters and sizzling grills and noise and clatter, with Papa P shaking hands, saying Ola and bantering with all the waiters as we went up.

The restaurant had bright lights and paper tablecloths and no concessions at all made to atmosphere, romance or style. It looked like a cross between a greasy spoon cafe and a 1980s conference centre dining room.

Papa P ordered for us – they didn’t allow us to see a menu because he’s been there so often it would apparently be offensive if he looked at the menu. Froglet said I wanted to eat fish not seafood, and they said they didn’t have any fish. Froglet assumed they were joking but they weren’t. This was a seafood restaurant. The options were crustaceans or crustaceans. No salad, no chips, no side dishes, nothing. Or you could have a steak sandwich, obviously. Because what else would you expect to eat in a seafood place, other than crustaceans or a steak sandwich??

At this point I felt horribly embarrassed. Papa P and Miss P apologised for the misunderstanding and using ‘a bad word’ to describe the restaurant. The crustaceans arrived in record time, unadorned in little metal dishes. Hellman’s mayo was also plonked on the table in squeezy bottles, but apparently you  must never use the sauce. It would be an insult to the perfection of the seafood.

I bravely ate a few prawns while Miss P, Papa P, and Froglet got stuck into the oysters, the sea snails and something that looked like the stubby, swollen-knuckled fingers of a green-skinned witch. Google later told me this was goose-barnacles. We had some very nice wine.

After a while Papa P ordered me a little cheese and a platter of pineapple, which were the dessert options. They were plopped on the table with much bantering, so I fear I may have harmed Papa P’s social standing there forever more.

In my defence, I think many regular British meat-eaters would have run away screaming from these alien-looking foods.

There was a table of people sitting near us drinking champagne. They ordered a lobster and then an enormous spider crab. It was like the face-hugger from alien. The body of the thing was about the size of my head, and the waiter proudly held him aloft so he could do a sad little wave while they snapped pictures, before he was boiled and eaten. When he reappeared, dead, the diners had a lovely time smashing him to pieces on little marble slabs, ripping his limbs off and sucking out his juices.

Crustacean eating has a gladiatorial feel about it. It’s a test food – how far are you willing to go? How close do you really want to be to the death and dismemberment required to eat living things? I feel quite respectful of people who can actually come to terms with it. At least it’s not hypocritical. We have to kill others in order to live. Trees communicate with one another. Even carrots suffer.

Papa P got extremely drunk throughout the meal, possibly to hide his embarrassment. He then ordered beers and steak sandwiches for him and Froglet. Just before we left Froglet was surrounded by a crowd of extremely drunk young men. They hugged him, they sang some football songs, they all wanted to take their picture with him. Papa P leapt to his defence, but ended up telling them, we think, that JP was a well-known French model who had starred in a lot of television adverts. This made them even happier, and led to even more group photographs. So this slightly disastrous night will be commemorated by a bunch of guys who are all going to winder why they have pictures of Froglet on their phone when they get up with a hangover.

Miss P’s beautiful white dress was just as spotless at the end of the meal as the start.

And I learned a valuable lesson: foreign countries are foreign countries. They do things differently there.

Portugal vs Britain

I can’t really imagine a place like Cervejaria Ramiros operating in the UK. In Britain, all this seafood would be seen as very, very adventurous eating, because even meat-eaters are often squeamish. Things that look and taste very much like animals – sea food, game, offal – have become the preserve of serious foodies, who pride themselves on recherche ‘nose-to-tail’ eating.

A restaurant that looks like a straightforward working class place wouldn’t be popular amongst wealthy people who like to show off about food, or amongst people saving up for a special treat, because it doesn’t look fancy. It wouldn’t be popular amongst regular people either, because they don’t usually eat this kind of thing, and the price would be too high.

This means that in Britain things that are fairly expensive, like seafood, get much more expensive, because they have to be served in fancy surroundings with an air of exclusivity, in order to attract any customers. Unless they are hipster places, in faux-simple surroundings with an enormous price tag. But in Lisbon, wealthy people seem happy to quaff Moet et Chandon and eat 100 euro spider crabs under harsh strip lighting at a table next to some drunk lads singing football songs.

One last thing: The evening wasn’t a total disaster, because we signed the contract for our flat the next day.

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A Weekend in Cascais

Froglet and I spent a weekend in Cascais, a seaside town near Lisbon.

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It’s a beautiful little town, with winding streets where bougainvilleas and other flowers cascade over the painted plaster walls of the courtyards.  But it’s very, very touristy. I wouldn’t want to live there in the summer when it must be heaving.

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We wandered around by the beaches, and up to a place called ‘Boca do Inferno’ or ‘the mouth of hell’. It’s a sea cave, where big Atlantic waves crash into the sharp, basalt rocks. A plaque informed us that Aleister Crowley faked his own suicide there in 1930, which didn’t surprise me.

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We visited the Paula Rego museum, which is a very large, pyramid-shaped building housing not very much art. I would guess they’re hoping to acquire more to fill it up a bit. I like Rego, but this was one of the few times when I wished there was a bit more information. Most of her work is based around scenes from literature, so it really would help to be told a bit about the plot and themes of the nineteenth century Portuguese novels she’s drawing on. What little information there was, was the standard curatorial nonsense, poorly translated. Why do curators insist on going on about the significance of things, in long-winded and confusing language? I want to know how a piece was made, when, what it’s made of, and what it represents, if anything. Armed with that information I can judge for myself what the significance or impact is.

We looked around the market, which has a big area selling fruit, veg and flowers, various shops around the outside including the obligatory pastelarias, bakeries and butchers, and a separate fish market. There’s a selection of trendy ready-made food stands and bars to one side of the market as well, but it’s mostly a traditional market for local people.

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On Friday evening we went all the way back to Lisbon for a slightly disastrous dinner with our new landlords (more on that to come). To make it up to me, Froglet took me a vegetarian cafe for lunch the next day, and we sat on a roof terrace that reminded me very much of Marrakesh. It was lovely though a bit overpriced, but then Cascais is more expensive than Lisbon.

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I’m ashamed to say we went out for a curry on Saturday evening, at a place called Ghandi Palace. It was a very decent curry. I was entertained that the polite Portuguese eat Naan bread with a knife and fork. I’m also ashamed to say that I managed to get a bit sunburned in a weird swirling pattern, where I missed a bit with the suncream. On my last night I lay day on the bed and wailed ‘Oh god! Froglet! I’m such a horrible stereotype! A fat, white British lady, who goes abroad to drink lager and eat the same food as at home and gets sunburned! I am awful!’ To which Froglet wisely replied, ‘Well, you are a white British lady and you got a bit sunburned, but the rest is just a matter of opinion.’ In moments like these, I really appreciate Froglet. I may be a stereotype, but I drew the line at having a drink in The John Bull, or one of the other English or Irish pubs in Cascais.

The practicalities:

The train from Cais do Sodre in central Lisbon costs 2.15 euros.

Trains run approximately every half twenty minutes and the journey takes about 30 or 40 minutes. You could also drive, but there’s very little parking if you’re just going for the day.

You can find out more here.

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Places to Visit: Estufa Fria Greenhouse

Froglet and I visited yet another one of Lisbon’s astonishing botanical gardens. This one is inside a series of giant greenhouses. It’s like visiting the Eden project in Cornwall, only it’s easy to get to by public transport, cheap, and pleasantly devoid of visitors. Pretty much like everything in Lisbon.

There are three greenhouses, the first of which isn’t really a greenhouse. It’s the cold house, sheltered by bamboo slats, like those old-fashioned rush beach mats people used to have. Then there are two proper greenhouses, the hot house, full of cacti, and the sweethouse, full of exotic plants and trees, as well as little grottoes, ponds and waterfalls.

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The area was a quarry in the nineteenth century, until a freshwater spring was discovered there. It then became the Parque Eduardo VII. In 1912 the cold house was started up by a creative gardener, keen to shelter his more delicate plants. Then everything ground to a halt until the 1920s, when it became an official cold house, but the greenhouses were not built until the 1970s.

The rest of the park that houses the greenhouses isn’t that exciting. It’s designed more to provide a grand vista looking down the hill to the huge Marques to Pombal statue. It’s worth going up there to take a look, but it’s not a place you’d want to linger in – it’s not unpleasant, it’s just not very interesting.

But the greenhouses are amazing. The plants and trees are huge and fabulous. I feel like Lisbon is really underselling itself in terms of tourist attractions. The greenhouses don’t seem to be mentioned on any of the tourist guides. And yet it’s a beautiful place to spend a few hours.

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This is a monstrous cactus, in case you were wondering.

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This is a cheese plant flower. I’ve only ever seen these as UK house plants before, so I had no idea they actually flowered!

The practicalities:

The greenhouses are open from 10am-7pm in summer (March-October) and 9-5 in the winter (end of October to start of March).

A regular adult ticket is E3.10, and there are various discounts for children etc. It’s free for everyone on Sundays until 2pm.

The nearest tube station is Parque.

You can find out more information here.

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Living in… Prazeres and Campo do Ourique

Froglet and I lived in Prazeres, which literally means ‘pleasures’ for a month, and it was lovely. We were on the border of the Campo do Ourique area, so I’ve included both here.

Prazeres is the final stop on Lisbon’s famous old tramway, Tram 28. There’s no real reason for tourists to visit, unless they take the tram all the way up here, and then back again. But if you do, it’s worth pausing to wander around for an hour or two, instead of rushing straight back again.

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Right opposite the tram stop is a pop-up restaurant in an old shipping container – yes! Hipsterism has reached Lisbon too. The restaurant is called ‘red’ and serves variations on the theme of roast beef. We didn’t eat anything here, but popped out several times in the evening to drink an ice-cold Sagres beer for 1E each.

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The cemetery is just opposite the tram stop too. It’s massive and quite spooky. It opened in 1833 to make room for all those who died during a cholera epidemic. There are very few actual graves here – most of the dead have been popped in coffins in little above-ground tombs. There are some great statues and amazing tombs and monuments here. There are lots of famous Portuguese dead people here, but I don’t know anything about them, so that doesn’t mean anything to me. Perhaps as I get to know Portuguese culture and history a visit to the cemetery will get more interesting. There’s no grass and few trees in the cemetery, so it doesn’t have the wild, romantic feel of Highgate. Many of the tombs have glass front door or windows, with little lace curtains, like a cute little play house piled up with coffins. I find this freaky. It’s especially freaky that some of the tombs are falling down and the coffins are tumbling out of them and just lying on the ground. Embalming bodies and preserving them like this seems like a horrible thing to me. I mean, what a burden to place on your descendants, having to look after your corpse for ever more. Anyway, you can visit the cemetery during daylight hours if you’re interested.

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You can also walk around the huge, grand Church of Campo do Ourique, where people come to hang out in the grounds: kids sit on the steps after school, old people chill on the benches, and dog-walkers gather here in the evening.

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Opposite the Church is the market. Around the outside you have your traditional fish, fruit, groceries, etc. In the middle the market has been converted into food stands and bars, just like every other market in the world. It’s quite trendy and quite expensive, but is occupied mainly by Portuguese people, not tourists. It’s open late and at the weekends they like to blast out karaoke.

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The area in general is a traditional one that’s been gentrified. There are loads of yummy-mummy shops selling expensive children’s’ clothes, toys and furniture, and lots of fancy clothing boutiques. This being Lisbon, there are also lots of traditional cheap restaurants and the obligatory pastelarias. These little cafes sell pastries, coffee, beer, and sometimes other snacks. They are busy at every time of day and night with school children, teenagers, students, office workers, workmen, families and their small children and elderly people. Everyone, in other words. I like the democratic nature of these places, and that you can pop in and stand at the counter knocking back a quick coffee or beer, or linger at a table having a chat. I like that pastelarias aren’t trendy or beautiful and that the choices are a bit limited. I like that it’s perfectly acceptable to have a small beer at 10am and that you could get really drunk here for hardly any money, but that no one does. It’s all incredibly civilised.

Oddly, Prazeres is also home to at least three or four (it’s unclear where one begins and another ends) haberdasheries, all in a row. It’s a shame I’m not into sewing, because they sell fabric of every kind, as well as wool, buttons, and all kinds of sewing things. Some of my friends would love it. There also used to be a posh vegetarian restaurant, but it shut down because of lack of interest. That tells you everything you need to know about vegetarian food in Lisbon.

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The Tapada das Necessidades park is also situated in Prazeres, although it’s a quite a long walk from Tram 28. But it’s my favourite garden is Lisbon, so peaceful and mysterious.

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Prazeres is quite a good part of Lisbon to stay in, as it’s clean, safe and pleasant, and there are good bus connections to the centre. It’s also cheaper than the centre and feels typically ‘Lisbon’ without being touristy.

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Places to Visit: Jardim Botanico da Universidade de Lisboa

Froglet and I continued our odyssey of Lisbon’s outdoor spaces with yet another botanic garden. Sorry if you’re getting bored of botanic gardens, believe it or not we have at least two more to visit! This one is situated in a trendy district called Principe Real, where there are a lot of nice cake shops.

As with everywhere we’ve visited it was quiet and peaceful, with not many visitors. It’s set on a very steep hill and pleasantly shady and cool. There wasn’t a lot of plant information, but there were a lot of palms and other exotic trees, cacti, and some truly gigantic cheese plants.

The water features were sad and empty, but the plants were well-watered.

It’s autumn in Lisbon, which means lots of fallen orange leaves to scuff through on the ground, but it’s also about 25 or 30 degrees. This creates an odd sense of disconnect for me. I can’t really feel autumny while wearing shorts and sandals, basking in the sun and eating an ice-cream. Where are the cosy jumpers and pumpkin spice lattes that tell us that summer is over? I’ve only seen one Starbucks since arriving in Lisbon, so don’t think there will be any pumpkin spice lattes. The Portuguese don’t go in for weird coffees: you can have uma bica (espresso) or um galao (milky coffee), and that’s it. But who cares, when you can have 365 kinds of custard?

Anyway, the botanic garden is very pleasant. Here are some pictures.

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This pavement was within the gardens. I love the pavements of Lisbon, there are so many different designs, it makes walking around really interesting, you always have something beautiful to look at, wherever you are!

Practicalities:

The garden costs 2 euros and is open from 9-8 in the summer (April-October), 9-6 in the winter (November-March).

It’s situated on the same site as the Museum of Natural History and Science and you can get a joint ticket to both for 6 euros, but we just visited the garden.

There’s also a butterfly house open from April-September.

You can find out more information here.

 

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Places to Visit: Jardim Botanico Tropical

Froglet and I have been exploring the outdoor spaces of Lisbon at the weekends. Apparently WINTER IS COMING, though honestly with all the heat and sunshine you’d never know it. But we thought we’d save up visiting Lisbon’s indoor attractions for when the weather is bad.

We went to the Jardim Botanico Tropical, which is in Belem, the suburb mainly know for Pastel del Nata and the monastery. The gardens are really easy to get to, only about 5 minutes walk from the main tram/bus stop. Like many outdoor spaces in Lisbon they were mysteriously deserted.

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We sat down on a nice shady bench under a huge tree to eat the sandwiches and pao de deus that we’d bought from A Padeira Portuguesa. This is a chain bakery and lunch place, selling bread, cakes, juice, soup, salad. They’re everywhere in Lisbon and very nice, like a cheaper version of the French chain Paul – 7 euros for 2 nice sandwiches and a cake. A Pao de Deus turns out to be a big brioche-type bun with a delicious coconut-custard topping.

An inquisitive goose wandered up to us. He was so excited about getting a bit of bread that he (or she?) actually wagged his goosey little tail and made a desperate little panting noise. His tongue was hanging out! He came so close I worried he’d bite my toes! Tragically we’d eaten everything and so had nothing to give him. He seemed very confused. Poor thing.

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The park is also full of peacocks and tiny little chickens happily pottering about all over the place, all squawking away to each other.

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It has a sadly neglected air, but then that’s Lisbon for you. The greenhouse was definitely closed – trees had grown up through the roof and a lot of the glass was smashed. The water features were green and slimy – even the geese weren’t that keen on them. A lot of the structures were damaged and broken. There was even the remains of an even old glasshouse with all its glass long, long gone. I’m not trying to fetishise this sad decay. It’s what happens when you have a weak economy and austerity measures against public services. If I was a millionaire I’d give the gardens some some money to get the greenhouse open again and to clean up all the water.

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I admit that the Jardim Botanico Tropical might not appeal to everyone, but I think you have to make an effort to get into the aesthetic of a place. Lisbon’s all about the mournful, faded grandeur and I like that. I like finding places in the city, conveniently located by public transport, that are wild and neglected.

The practicalities:

The gardens cost 2 euros and are open from 10am, until dark-ish, depending on the time of year. You can find out more here.

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