Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Europe 2010’ Category

Barcelona Museums, 29-30.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 1, 2010

Our last two days in Barcelona were spent in museums, and despite its history of civic arson Barcelona turned out to be a treasure trove of interesting places. 

We went to the Rambla (a pedestrianised street)  first because everybody does, but I wasn’t very impressed. There are people who get a buzz out of being in places that are very popular and full of crowds but I’m not one of them.  (Especially not when a careless tourist cracked my foot – my good one! – with her beastly trolley case, one of those really solid hard metal ones – it turns out that it crushed a nerve, no wonder it’s still hurting *a lot* nearly a week later *sniffle*).   No, the best thing about the Rambla was that I found a big bookshop that had some English books, and there amongst the dross was a copy of Washington Irving’s A History of New York.  (Did I mention that there was a plaque in the Alhambra recording that he stayed there?)

The first museum we went to – and the one you mustn’t miss if you are interested in ancient history – is the City Museum, (Museo de Historia de la Ciudat).  It’s a bit hard to find this place on maps and in guide books because there are also two other museums, the History of Barcelona Museum, and also the History of Catalonia Museum.  Opening hours are surprisingly limited: it’s only open from 10.00 till 2.00, so make sure you have the location right before you plan your day: it’s the city museum, the one with the underground Roman ruins. Even when you find it in Plaza Rei, there are two and the one you want is not the one up the steps; it’s the one on the other side of the square at ground level.  (BTW the  official webpage is all in Catalan so don’t expect to make sense of that even if you speak Spanish.)

Once you’re finally inside it, there’s all the usual introductory stuff you’d expect to find – in Catalan, Spanish (which they call Castellano) and in French.  That’s right, not in English – though when it’s 1.30pm and they want the visitors out of there promptly so that they can knock off at 2.00pm, the announcement is in two languages: Catalan and English.  There is a video in three languages, but having to sit through the same video twice over in the wrong language was clearly too much for Americans visiting at the same time as us.  (And it was too much for me because I’d read 500 pages about Barcelona’s history in Robert Hughes’ book already.)

But once you take the lift and whizz down underground, it’s brilliant.  The Roman remains were discovered when some building was being done, and fortunately work was stopped and the archaeologists moved in.  What you can see, using a cleverly designed series of pathways, is the remains of streets, houses, a processing plant for making fish sauce and another for making wine.  It is the best thing I have seen since Pompeii.  But it’s a good thing I can read French, because most of the signage again is in three languages but doesn’t include English – and the audio guide is pitched at the level of an ignoramus who knows nothing about ancient Rome at all.   It doesn’t tell you anything about the small items on display.  Very, very annoying.

From there, we went to the Picasso Museum.  Considering we’re amateur art lovers we’ve seen a good bit of Picasso’s work – a visiting exhibition at home, at the galleries in London, Austria and Italy, at the Louvre and the Picasso Museum in Paris, and at the Prado. So I was not expecting to find anything especially interesting – but it was excellent. 

There is a lot of his early work, which Tim was pleased to see showed that Picasso could actually draw and paint!  There was some fine portraiture though we weren’t much impressed with his gloomy landscapes.  There were also quite a few pictures on what looked like wooden cigarette box lids, like the ones Australian Impressionists of the Heidelberg school used when they were too hard up to buy canvas.  I really like these: I like the idea of young artists being so resourceful and so keen to practise their art that they will use whatever comes to hand.

Anyway, we could see examples of Picasso’s blue and rose periods, and the gradual emergence of his modernism.  The museum actually has less of these because of course his later works are in all the major museums of the world (we in Melbourne have his Weeping Woman).  There are ceramics and sculptures too but I don’t find them quite so interesting. 

In the evening we had a most enjoyable evening meeting up for the first time f2f with my Good Reads friend Troy and his lovely wife Anna.  We went to a great new restaurant Cal Boter in 62 Carrer Tordera in Gracia which specialises in real Catalan food.  We shared sea urchins and local mushrooms in season and prawns for entrée, Tim had duck with a vermouth sauce and I had the local lubino (sea bass) which I have come to love since being here in Spain.

We spent our last morning at the Ceramics Museum complex conveniently close to our hotel, on the Diagonal.  The Ceramics museum is sensational – when I have time I will make a little video of the photos I was allowed to take – it begins with old pottery and goes right through to the present day.  But the best bits were the Catalan tiles, both dear little individual ones which were used to identify the premises of craftsmen in the days before people could read, and huge mosaics depicting Great Moments in History.  If you have to choose just two museums in Barcelona, then this and the City History museum would be my recommendation. 

As well as the pottery and tiles in the Ceramics Museum,  in the same building (an old palace) there’s also a fascinating Museum of Decorative Arts and a Museum of Textiles – which was more a history of dress, showing how and why the body is decorated.  Great stuff, don’t miss it. 

So this post ends our journey to Europe 2010 and this series of travels.  I’m writing it in our stopover hotel, the Singapore Crowne Plaza, and tomorrow I’ll be home. 

Thanks to everyone who took the trouble to comment on this blog…some nights I’ve been almost too tired to do it, but your encouragement made me make the effort and now I’m glad I have a nice record of this wonderful trip.  

 

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Posted in Art Galleries, Barcelona 2010, Europe 2010, Museums, Spain 2010 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Gorgeous Gaudi, Barcelona, 28.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 29, 2010

Well, today we slogged our way through two very long queues but we have seen and been inside both the Sagrada Familia and the Casa Mila.  These iconic works of architecture by Antoni Gaudi are huge tourist attractions, and now we know why!

We started with the the church because we were expecting the queue to be long, and we had an excellent guide – much better than an audio guide because she was there to answer questions, and was also up-to-date with the latest news…

Which is that the Pope is due to come and consecrate it next week!  (That’s why there’s a poster on the steeple, it’s advertising The Big Event).    Thank goodness we came this week and not next because the crowds will be unimaginable – this building was started in 1883 and so proclaiming it as a basilica is a major milestone and one that will bring Barcelona to a standstill, I expect. 

Thousands of words have been written about this work of art so I shan’t add much to them except to say that the exterior is fascinating.  Every statue is symbolic in some way because Gaudi was a devout Catholic –  all the carvings were done by sculptors under his direction when he was alive and in accordance with his ideas after his death.  The scenes on one side represent the Passion, and on the other the Nativity – yet to be done is the Gloria (the creation of the earth and the Garden of Eden) and it is hoped that this will be finished by the anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2026. 

Inside, it is a magical experience to walk into what feels like an elegant, airy forest of trees.  The stained glass windows are beautiful and the curving lines of the choir high up in the air is so different to anything I have ever seen.    

The Casa Mila is the last work that Gaudi finished.  It’s a block of apartments, but these days tourists can enter in at the lobby, take a lift to the top floor and see scale models and a fully furnished Modernisme (Art Nouveau) apartment and then go out onto the famous terrace and clamber around the chimney pots.  We did too, of course, and had a lovely time even though all those flowing walls and curving lines distorted Tim’s infallible sense of direction just for a moment or two when we were inside!

As we say in Australia, when you’re on a good thing stick to it, so we’re going out tonight to dine at Casa Calvet – which is a restaurant in a building that Gaudi designed!

Posted in Barcelona 2010, Cathedrals & churches, Europe 2010, Historic buildings, Spain 2010 | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Alhambra, Granada, 26.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 27, 2010

My goodness, it was cold hanging around waiting to get into the Nasrid Palace this morning!  The way the system works to manage the huge crowds that want to see this place is to allocate times for each ticket.  So (assuming you have been smart enough to reserve a ticket from Australia two months beforehand) you collect it from the ticket machine and then you can get into the complex.  (Actually, you can also get into it from round the back, for free, but you can’t get into the significant bits of it so there’s not much point.)

The trouble is, you need to collect the ticket an hour beforehand.  Quite why this is so I do not know, but we are compliant, low maintenance tourists and so we did what we were supposed to do.   We then took the advice of our host at the hotel and walked to where the entrance is (because that takes 20 minutes across some mostly evil cobblestones).

There were then 40 minutes to kill and  once we’d had a quick look at the inside of Carlos V’s palace we were back outside in the queue and it was freezing. Everybody was cold, especially the poor young lady whose job it was to hold the tourist hordes at the entrance till their allocated time. She was rugged up much better than I was but she was stamping her feet and pocketing her hands and obviously wishing she had a warm woolly hat as well.  Fortunately there was a handy souvenir shop, and if there is one item you can count on finding in an Italian or Spanish souvenir shop, it’s a scarf so I whipped in and bought one while Tim stayed manfully out in the cold and pretended not to care. (Well, he would have looked pretty silly in a pink scarf with little bells on it, which was the least girly scarf I could buy.)

Eventually it was our time and we were in. Is it ok to say that it was a bit of a let-down? Not at first, because the first time you see a chamber full of Islamic whatnots on the ceiling and the columns and the doors and the floors it’s all a bit of a thrill. The trouble is, they’re into repetition. Lots of it.  It’s like Indonesian music which repeats itself over and over again.  Fascinating the first time but a tad wearisome for those not familiar with whatever it is that makes it so special.  And there are, of course, no pictures.  Representation of the human form is not allowed.  This is a bit limiting from an artistic point-of-view, in my amateur art-lover opinion….

But judging by the earnest commentary we heard about us (especially from one character got up to look like Oscar Wilde) scholars and aficionados of this kind of art are probably mightily impressed because it’s all terribly clever and M.C. Escher showed how very mathematical it is. But after three or four chambers of it, all looking more or less the same to the untrained eye, I was ready for a nice bit of high Gothic Christian razzmatazz, thank you very much! Fortunately the Crusaders turned up in due course and further up the hill they built a nice friary with the kind of architecture I like and that was much more interesting.

(There’s an intriguing contrast between one guide book and another as to why the Christians left this Moorish pile intact instead of ripping it down. One says it’s because the people of Granada were tolerant and reasonable and good at recycling buildings – and the other says it’s because the winners regarded the Alhambra as a prize of considerable prestige, and they wanted to flaunt it to show the Moors who was boss.)

Anyway, alas for the friars, they got turfed out in 1835 when Madrid took control of all church property and the place fell into disrepair until it was restored in 1929.  Somehow it miraculously survived the Spanish Civil War and a lot of other destructive acts against church property too.  Historically speaking, (according to Robert Hughes in his terrific book Barcelona) the clergy in Spain were in cahoots with the rich, powerful and important rather than with the poor and dispossessed so when the poor were feeling particularly oppressed they burned down a church or a convent.  Lots of them.)

But they left this one intact so you can still see the tombstone of Queen Isabella who in 1504 very piously asked on her deathbed to be buried in a simple shroud in the monastery – but would of course being a loyal wife defer to her husband King Ferdinand if he wanted to be buried somewhere else.

Well, she died first so she got her wish, and a great horde of flunkeys and courtiers and slaves got the unenviable task of carting her body to Granada in one of the worst rainstorms and floods on record. Ferdinand likewise wished to be united with her in death as well as in life (because after all there was the unity of the kingdoms of Castille and Aragon to be worried about) so he was entombed in the monastery as well until his grandson (whose name I forget) thought he knew better and removed it to the royal chapel.

There are lots of lovely gardens with water features at the Alhambra, and it takes a good five hours to meander about and admire them all. But for me, the best bit was the temporary exhibition of Matisse paintings which showed how he was influenced by his fleeting visit to the Alhambra. Back in his garret on the French Riviera he recreated a kind of oriental room as a backdrop for his nudes and there were quite a few of them (drawings and paintings) on display in the Museo.   There were also some exquisite embroidered shawls in this exhibition but of course the women who made them remain anonymous.

After five weeks on the road our stamina is not what it was and five hours on foot knocked the stuffing out of us. We had some lunch, and spent the rest of the day loafing about.

Tomorrow we’re off to Barcelona, so I’d better get to bed and finish reading the last chapter of Robert Hughes’s book!

Posted in Art Galleries, Cathedrals & churches, Europe 2010, Gardens, Granada 2010, Historic buildings, Museums, Spain 2010 | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Granada, 25.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 26, 2010

We got in by train at about 3.00pm, spent a lazy hour chatting about art with an American art professor at the local plaza, and then strolled off in the other direction – and found the bar with the best view of the Alhambra…

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And tomorrow we visit the inside!

Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Europe 2010, Granada 2010, Historic buildings, Spain 2010 | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Seville Cathedral, 24.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 25, 2010

This afternoon we went to Seville Cathedral.  It’s the largest Gothic cathedral in the world – and the third largest church as well.

You know those scenes of tourists gaping at something in awe, in places like the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum or Versailles?  That was Tim and me today in this cathedral, and there are no words to describe its majesty.  Here’s a video made with some of our photos…

PS We’re off to Granada tomorrow – and the Alhambra!

Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Europe 2010, Seville 2010, Spain 2010 | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Casa Robles, Seville 24.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 24, 2010

We arrived in Seville late last night, made later by an interminable delay in unloading the bags – only to find the city in the middle of a grand concert, which made accessing our hotel a bit of a problem for our taxi-driver.  At the first road block we were turned away and sent off in a different direction, but at the next road block he made an impassioned plea to the policeman(presumably about the strong probability of his tourists getting lost)   and we were let through.  

After we checked in we ventured outdoors to find some very late dinner. It was well past eleven o’clock but the streets were still full of people and the restaurants and bars were still open.  No problem said our charming host here at the Hotel Alminar, but it was, because everywhere we asked there were no tables and we ended up picking at a sorry ham and cheese roll at a sort of gelataria…

But by the time we’d reconciled ourselves to chucking most of it in the bin, the restaurant almost next to our hotel had begun to empty.  We ventured in for a restorative glass of wine, and found ourselves in a veritable temple of gastronomy, dedicated to the fruits of the sea.  We decided then and there that we would have lunch there the following day.

The after-party for the concert went on and on and on, and (despite the ear plugs) it must have been two o’clock before we finally drifted into sleep.  (The hotel doesn’t have double-glazing on the windows, a feature that has made most of the other city hotels we’ve stayed in impervious to street noise.)  So it was a later-than-usual start this morning, and the bus-tour was a bit of a disappointment because it was a bumpy old bus that made taking photos almost impossible.  (Travellers’ tip: check out the age of the bus before you buy your ticket. There are always two or three of these companies offering more-or-less the same tours so it pays to be choosy.)

Still, we saw some interesting features of the city that we would never have otherwise seen.  The buses can’t navigate the narrow streets of the old city so they go across the river to where Seville hosted an expo in 1992.   The temporary exhibitions are all gone of course, but these expos offer an opportunity for a city’s architects to build all kinds of innovative structures and Seville’s are no exception.

El Alamillo bridge

So there are all kinds of fabulous new buildings of architectural interest, and the bridge that crosses the river is an engineering marvel.  It’s called the El Alamillo Bridge, and it works by balancing the spar against the span using massive cables.  You can’t really see it properly in my photo so click the link instead to see good photos of it by day and by night.   Apparently the architect wanted to build another ‘matching’ one on Seville’s other river but ‘financial difficulties’ put paid to that.  What a pity, it would have been a grand sight….

But alas we did not see much of the old city except for its bullring (about which the audio guide waxed lyrical much to our disapproval) so we decided to have lunch at Casa Robles and then visit the cathedral and the fine arts museum.  We had a splendid lunch, and cannot understand why there are so many grudging reviews about this eatery on Trip Advisor.  Yes, it’s true they don’t speak much English but that’s not a criteria for judging a restaurant and to whinge about it says more about the whinger than it does about the restaurant.  Apart from anything else the menu is in four different languages and it provides very detailed explanations about what the dishes contain.

It’s also true that lobster dishes are expensive.  That is because the world price for lobster is set in Japan, and lobster (crayfish) is now very expensive wherever you go.   The days when we could buy a cray for $20 at a fish-and-chip shop and eat it on the beach are long gone.  It is a luxury food which commands a luxury price.  Whinging about that is like whinging about caviar being expensive or expecting French champagne to cost the same as Italian spumante. 

We consider it a very good sign when most of the diners are locals not tourists, and Casa Robles did not let us down in that respect at all.  We had traditional Seville seafood at a very reasonable price, and we could have fed four people with the very generous serves.  The seafood rice and broth was similar in appearance to the one we had at Cafe Nicola in Lisbon (rice, prawns, clams, mussels and fish in a tomato broth flavoured with saffron) but here they use a little more garlic, their local wines (as I’m sure the Portuguese did too) and they don’t add mint.  It was delicious and Chef Tim is going to experiment at home to reproduce it.  

Having left my Spanish phrase book at the hotel and lost a little of my bravura after four days in Lisbon where the speaking of Spanish is a grave insult, I muddled my way through conversation with the waiter – and he must have been pleased with the efforts of la tourista Australiana because after I had paid the bill and a generous tip, we were given delicious little sweet nibbles made with pistachio and some type of marzipan and sour cherry liqueurs.   So we had a lovely time at Casa Robles and we would recommend it to anyone!

Alas, it was as we were waiting for the bill that we discovered our foolish mistake.  The fine arts museum is only open till 2.00pm on Sundays…

Ah well, off to the cathedral now!

Posted in Europe 2010, Seville 2010, Spain 2010 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Art in Lisbon, 22.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 23, 2010

Did I say yesterday that I thought Lisbon was raffish? Perhaps that was an understatement.

Galleons on lamp posts

We took the Lisbon Sightseeing bus again, this time on their ‘orient’ route which took us to the north and along the coast of the estuary. In the city centre we saw the same curious mixture of beautiful old 19th century buildings side-by-side with concrete monoliths and glass and steel tower blocks, but everywhere we looked there was graffiti.   Nothing artistic or creative about it, it’s just dirty tagging and it is enough to make you weep to see the way it is plastered all over lovely old buildings. You can tell by the way it has faded that nobody makes any attempt to clean it off either.

The bus then hurtled its windswept passengers along and upwards towards the north and brought us to Oceanario de Lisboa, a brilliant modern complex of stunning architecture coherently designed on a maritime theme.

It was built to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s landing in India, and it is breath-taking.  Yes, I know I’m over-using that word, but what else is there to describe seeing building after building with elegant symbols evoking galleons, rigging, sails, waves and the prows of ships? There are also massive water features to represent the oceans of the world, and all of it faces out to the River Tagus (which is really an estuary). Pristine, stylish and new, it is home to a commercial precinct of banks and classy business addresses. It is what Melbourne’s Docklands could be if we had the same architectural genius to conceive the development with the priority on making something beautiful instead of making money. It is stunning.

And it is an extraordinary contrast with what came next on this bus tour. I do not understand how it has happened that Lisbon has (a) allowed so many of its lovely buildings to fall into appalling disrepair and (b) surrendered itself to the scourge of graffiti in the way that it has.  (Click here to see what I mean). Where in the city centre shabby old buildings in need of restoration remain as infill amongst the new, here street after street after street was full of apartment blocks with fallen masonry, windows broken or filled in with bricks, and rusted balconies. The buildings were filthy, there was graffiti on every available wall, the streets were full of rubbish and weeds and those silly tiles were all broken and dangerous and no attempt had been made to tidy them up and make them safe. I have seen poverty in Africa, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam but I have never seen such a sleazy, dirty, disgusting place as this in Europe. It made me very cross indeed. Nobody should have to live in such conditions and the Portuguese government ought to set up an economic stimulus package for the obviously unemployed young people to clean it all up.

We were pleased to get off the bus and take a restorative walk up through the King Edward VII gardens. This is a large park right in the heart of Lisbon, established to commemorate his visit here in 1903, and the quiet beauty of it helped to restore a sense of equanimity. We found a congenial restaurant (Cafe Esplanado) at the top of the hill where a friendly waiter recommended traditional fish for our lunch and his sense of pride in his culture made us feel that Lisbon was a lovely place after all.

Encouraged, we set out for the Museu Gulbenkian but mistook the Modern Art Gallery for it instead. We couldn’t find any of the pictures we were expecting to see and felt a little disappointed but (not realising that we were in the wrong gallery altogether) put it down to the way galleries lend their artworks to other galleries all the time. We decided that it is even harder to make sense of contemporary art when there’s no English signage or gallery guide – but were very impressed by some five year olds earnestly discussing some incomprehensible pictures of horses with their teacher. This little scene told us three things: school children here are very well-behaved; they all speak their national language (which is not the case with a prep class in Melbourne) and their school thinks that it’s worthwhile teaching them about art when they’re very young. (What happens to turn these little art scholars into graffiti vandals when they are older, I do not know.)

From the quiet of this almost deserted gallery we strolled out into another lovely park. This one is a series of paved walkways, intersecting with gardens, waterways and secluded places to sit quietly and enjoy the bird and plant life. The paths wend their way around a complex of squat modern buildings and it was from one of these that we spotted some very interesting art works. Could this be the Museu Gulbankian that we had been expecting?

It was, and it was brilliant. It is a superb collection of artworks from the ancient to the impressionists. There were gorgeous funerary objects from Egypt, Greece and Rome; wonderful rugs and velvets from Persia (Iran); exquisite porcelain and lacquer boxes from China; and glorious illuminated Books of Hours. There were magnificent French clocks (still ticking); some delicate tapestry chairs from the 17th and 18th century; sumptuous pieces of Sevres porcelain and a really good representative collection of portraits, still life and landscapes, including Dutch and Flemish masters, Rubens and Rembrandt. There weren’t actually many impressionists, but the piece de resistance was the Lalique gallery where there is a stunning collection of jewellery and small sculptures – and that brooch, the one that featured on the cover of A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book. I couldn’t help it, I know the suitcase will be overweight, but I bought the guide book so that I can admire them all over again at home.

So ends our sojourn in Lisbon.  Tomorrow we will try to find a post office so that we can offload some of the excess baggage, and then it’s a travel day. Two flights, with a boring wait in between, but then Seville!

Posted in Art Galleries, Europe 2010, Gardens, Lisbon 2010, Portugal 2010 | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Maritime Museum, Lisbon 21.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 22, 2010

Ok, I’m back from dinner, and if my spelling is wonky now you can blame the excellent Portuguese grappa which tastes like a very good brandy!

From the Jeronimo monastery we then went to the maritime museum, called Museu de Marinhu. It’s fabulous.

First of all, there is a huge map in the entrance lobby showing the routes discovered by Portuguese mariners in the 16th and 17th centuries.  People of my generation remember laboriously tracing world maps and plotting these voyages of discovery when we were in primary school, perhaps too young to really appreciate the courage, tenacity and imagination of these explorers, but certainly more likely to remember them than today’s children who merely photocopy a map, if they study them at all.  Does it matter? I think it does.  I think it’s important to acknowledge human endeavour in any form, and I think that these men who set off into the unknown without proper maps, navigation aids or even knowledge of how to keep sane and healthy on a long voyage are real heroes.

If you google Portuguese explorers there are 121 pages to choose from, and that’s just the ones whose names have made it onto Wikipedia.  At school we learned about Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and Bartholomew Dias, and it’s quite possible that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to sight the western coast of Australia.  Henry the Navigator was among the most famous, and it’s not so long ago that Lisbon erected a monument called The Discoveries to commemorate his achievements.  There is an impressive portrait of him in the museum too, and this is an indication that contemporary Portuguese take an intense pride in their maritime history and the role it played in opening up the new world to Europe.

The museum has lots of terrific scale models of Portuguese ships of battle and discovery, a great collection of naval uniforms from times past to the present day, some magnificent royal barges – and also some flying boats from the 20th century.  The Portuguese ditched their monarchy back in 1910, but the museum hosts an intriguing display from the royal yacht Amelia, complete with his and hers bedrooms (each with own piano), a roulette table and some very swanky crockery.  Not all that different to the Liz and Phil’s yacht that’s on display in Edinburgh, perhaps a bit classier.

Museu Nacional de Arte antiga

Source: Wikipedia Commons

We had lunch in the Belem Cultural Centre overlooking the River Tagus but declined to inspect their modern artworks.  They might be great, but our feet were sore and we still had the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga to do.  We got back on the red tourist bus to get most of the way there but then there was a trek across roadworks, more of those perilous paving stones, a very high footbridge across a railway and then a LOT of stairs – not just to reach the entrance but also inside it – no lifts anywhere!

 

It was just a tad disappointing.  We saw The Temptation of St Anthony by Hieronymous Bosch (so now we’ve seen the trilogy – the other two are in the Prado) , a Bruegel and a Durer, but most of the other artworks were by artists we’ve never seen or heard of .  The porcelain was lovely and there were some stunning gold figurines which must be worth a mint, but we weren’t able to take full advantage of the collection without an audio guide or a guidebook to explain the significance of what was there.

Indefatigable tourists we try to be, but we took a taxi back to the hotel which turned out to be the most expensive of the trip (not counting Melbourne to Tullamarine) because it was peak hour and the traffic was chaotic.  I used to be scared of plane flights, but now I know that Lisbon taxi drivers are scarier still.  They drive fast and furious, but without the dashing flair of the Spanish who for some odd reason inspire one with confidence.

I was almost too tired to go out to dinner but we’d made a booking and I was glad we went after all.  Alma is a superb fusion restaurant which serves both a classic Portuguese degustation and an innovative one.  Tim had the classic and I had the new and they were both brilliant.  The ambience was elegant and the waiting staff were friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable about all aspects of the cuisine and the wines.  We met the chef, who turned out to have worked in Sydney for two years, and he was a lovely person too. If you go to Lisbon, this is a must-do experience.

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Posted in Art Galleries, Dining out, Europe 2010, Gardens, Lisbon 2010, Museums, Portugal 2010 | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Belem museums, Lisbon 21.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 22, 2010

Portuguese paving

We set off this morning for the Lisbon bus tour, always a good way of getting to know a new city.  These red buses are everywhere it seems, and if you can bear the stiff breeze the top level is best for photos.  On the way to the depot, I took a photo of the Perilous Paving, just to show you that it can look very nice indeed.  (I have since discovered that it’s made with limestone and basalt.)

Anyway, we  discovered lots of interesting things about the city and there is no shortage of attractions to visit, only a shortage of time and the likely exhaustion factor!  We hopped off the bus at the Monasterio de Jeronimo which is a fabulously huge old monastery now used to house museums while retaining the central part of it more or less as it was. (Without the monks).

The first museum we visited was the Museu Archelogico.  (I hope I spelled that correctly).  The star attraction there is a recently discovered Roman kiln which is the first one I’ve ever seen.  I found myself wondering about these anonymous potters, and imagined what their response would be if they could know that people like us are admiring their work two thousand years later…

There were some Egyptian artefacts, but the most impressive room was the Treasures Display.  Here there was a map showing where the known gold deposits were during the Roman era, and the Iberian peninsula was one of the most richly endowed.  The cabinets showed how the Romans progressed from simple beaten armlets to sophisticated filigree earrings, rings inset with precious stones or small cameos, entwined ropes of gold necklaces and really fancy torcas decorated with military symbols. (Torcas are those necklet things that held men’s togas on).

 From the museum we went into the monastery.  The cloisters were breathtaking – every column and surface was carved with exquisite images of fruits, flowers, vines, animals, people and of course religious symbols as well.  In the refectory there were beautiful tiled pictures and the chapel had lovely stained glass windows.  The only thing that spoiled all this was a group of very badly behaved secondary school students screeching and shouting all over the place, and no supervising teacher in sight.

More later, we’re off to dinner.

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First day in Lisbon, 20.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 21, 2010

Today was mostly a travel day (and it takes longer to pack each time we buy some souvenirs!) but we ended up in the Hotel Marques de Pombal in Lisbon in the middle of the afternoon.    There are actually lots of Hotels Marques de Pombal because he was the much-admired Prime Minister who redesigned Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake, but ours is the one on Avenida de Liberadad and very nice it is too.

Our hotel is situated on a leafy boulevard not far from the restaurant strip, but from what we have seen of it, Lisbon is a bit raffish compared to Spanish cities.  On our walk downtown in the late afternoon we saw homeless people curled up asleep beside shops selling Zegna suits and Louis Vitton handbags; and many of the apartment blocks could do with a lick of paint.  Our hotel receptionist advised us to beware of pickpockets on public transport, and although this is standard advice anywhere, here we felt mildly uneasy walking about after dark in badly lit places.

Not least because of the pavements!  Here, pavements are made up of thousands of small squares of shiny paving stones, and there is no pretence at laying them evenly or flat.  I discovered this as soon as I ventured outside the hotel – where the surface consisted of smooth, glassy undulating waves with the occasional missing stone presenting particular peril for anyone silly enough to wear high heels.  (Not me, I hasten to add, and I’ll certainly be  wearing my ankle brace for my next venture outdoors!)  Wikipedia tells me that this form of paving is unique to Portugal and its former colonies and I can only guess at how many sprains and breaks these pavements cause in wet weather when the smooth surfaces become really treacherous! 

Restaurant Nicola, Lisbon

These perils made us choose a restaurant for dinner rather hastily, but it turned out to be an excellent choice.   Restaurant Nicola is a very old restaurant dating back to the 19th century but was redecorated in the 1930s so it has an art deco ambience.  Pleasingly, it was the haunt of a poet called Manuel du Bocage and there are paintings and a statue to admire but all of this would count for nothing if the food were not so good.

It’s traditional Portuguese fare, specialising in seafood.  We were offered appetisers of sardine and tuna pate, a cheese a bit like a red Leicester, and a kind of dried ham, and we chose a white wine called Marques de Boba alentejo (2009) to wash it down with.  Lisa’s ‘Cadiz’ soup was made with beans, carrots, celery, pasta, and a light tomato stock, while Tim’s ‘mixed smokeds’ turned out to be ham, (a bit like a parma ham) and a sort of salami, but not as greasy or fatty as chorizo.  But it was the main course which was the star of the show – we thought that ‘arroz & marisco’ would turn out to be a sort of paella but it’s more of a cross between a soup or a stew.  It’s made with long-grained rice, peeled prawns, clams and mussels in a spiced saffron stock and it was delicious. 

Serious sight-seeing tomorrow!

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