Adventures in Lisbon with the friendliest explorers

CNV00021

On the back streets of Alfama

My experience in Lisbon had been of a rather curious nature. A lot more random and distressing things happened to me there than in any other place (apart from Brussels trip, on which my companion and I met an apparently famous flutist, an old British womanizer type, and proceeded to go for drinks with him and his very strange mate).

For starters, I became enamored with soft toned buildings and laundry hanging off every window. When I was in Alfama visiting the Castelo de Sao Jorge, I counted 22+ drying sets of laundry seen in every direction.

Image

The houses of Bairro Alto

Image

Alfama streets

Cobbled paths were a bit of a challenge with a carry-on suitcase though.

I talked to and met a lot of Portuguese people, starting with Regina, my very warm and friendly AirBnB host (check out her Bairro Alto room for rent here) and continuing with her Ukrainian roommate (what a pleasant surprise, we spoke Russian most of the time), her boyfriend, friends, mother and random people Regina and I met on the street.

One of the most striking features about Lisbon (and I assume, Portugal overall) is how friendly everyone was. Portuguese are a warm bunch. They are also proud of their heritage, cultural contributions, naval achievements and geographic discoveries.

When I saw the river Tagus view from the hills of the city (Lisbon is nicknamed as the City of Seven Hills), there was no question about it: If I had to see this all my life, I, too, would want to set sail and explore the world on ship. So hats off to the Portuguese for venturing out on our behalf. Are you not surprised that Lisboa’s other nickname is Queen of the Sea?

Image

View from Alfama; river Tagus in the background

I arrived at the cusp of November and December and, despite the sun on photos, it was pretty cold there. But I didn’t give up. I took a cable car to Alfama to explore the Sao Jorge castle and surrounding areas. Of particular interest was the Conserveira de Lisboa, which has been in operation for 80 years. It’s full of bespoke canned seafood products, and you can watch old ladies wrap sardines, octopus and other goodies in beautifully designed wraps (which I’m going to put on my wall as art pieces):

Source: Lisboa Diarios http://lisboadiarios.blogspot.com/

I recommend taking a small picnic to the Castle and surrounding grounds so you can enjoy breathtaking views without going hungry or thirsty. I also recommend overcoming any fears of heights and climb as many stairs as you can to experiencing what it might have felt like to be a arrow-shooting guard on duty.

CNV00001

Took me a while to wait for the flag to move. This is from the castle’s highest point.

CNV00004

About to enter the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Notice a figure eyeing us from the top.

I did not go into as many restaurants as I usually do when I travel, but one particular spot that stood out was The Decadente, which recently won a Best Restaurant award. Rightly so. Make a reservation and definitely try the pork belly on the menu. More photos can be found here.

Why are all these photos taken with what looks like a film camera? Sadly, my iPhone 4S was stolen by a pickpocket. My guard was down, I was too distracted in a busy cafe (at A Padaria Portuguesa, you might want to be more careful there), and someone took it. It was one of the most unpleasant feelings in my life. I won’t go into my feelings about the loss, but I’ll say that it me a day to regroup and equip myself with paper maps and disposable cameras!

On a Monday night, my last one in Lisboa, Regina took me out to have some of the best traditional Portuguese meat at Toma La Da Ca restaurant in Bica neighborhood. Cheap and plentiful food. We then ventured out to a Library Bar (one of the few bars that allow smoking indoors – take note, smokers) to meet up with friends before heading to an amateur drag queen night, some of which you can see below:

CNV00013

Things you must do in Lisbon as recommended by me:

  • Stay in Bairro Alto, which is a nightlife central; it’s densely packed, all you need is within the perimeter of 4 streets.
  • Dine at El Decadente restaurant.
  • Have pastries for breakfast and do not overestimate the freshness of seafood shops. I found excellent cod and octopus salads at a seafood shop on Rua Loreto near the Largo Luis de Camoes square in Chiado.
  • Venture out to Belem for a day: see the Jeronimos Monastery, get your contemporary art fix at the Berardo Collection Museum, and stuff yourself with the tasty Pasteis de Belem, like myself over here:
  • If you are into dancing, go to LUX Fragil club; it’s co-owned by John Malkovich and even though the club is not new, it is still high on the list of excellent interior design jobs.
  • Catch some fado especially at dinner. But try to avoid tourist traps as they will overcharge you.

Few more shots:

CNV00015

Tower of Belem

CNV00017

Jeronimos Monastery in Belem

CNV00019

Electricity Museum in Belem. Great contemporary art exhibits!

CNV00014

Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. Belem

Any questions? Just ask 🙂

All photos copyright Karin Abramova

Advertisements

My Weekend Meals: Recap

And the reasons why I should stick to salad and leafy,  non-meaty, non-carby things this coming week. Except for Wednesday night when I will be venturing out to Buca for a dinner.

I. Friday

It started with a dinner at Enoteca Sociale, which you should try visiting for yourself. It’s Pizza Libretto’s sister restaurant on 1288 Dundas Street and Dovercourt. Really worth it. They also have a cheese cave with more cheeses than regular food items (listed on the menu, teehee). Follow Enoteca on Twitter.

For wine we ordered Faraghina 2009, which was a crisp, dry white wine. Despite eating a medium-heavy meal we all agreed on trying this wine and were not disappointed. Please keep in mind that I forgot to photograph some items on the menu. That’s my fault. For next week’s recap I’ll be more careful.

We started with crispy veal sweetbreads and arugula, as well as artichoke fries. For the first round of firsts we ordered house made pappardelle braised rabbit, house made duck liver ravioli sage brown butter and raviolo (ricotta, wild spinach & peas) with porcini mushrooms.

The latter (and the above photo) was part of the tasting menu which also included chef’s antipasto, ontario lamb chop parmigiana & green beans, treviso & green salad. Here’s the lamb:

For dessert we got allegretto (thermalised sheep’s milk, quebec, sharp) and a sweetened ricotta, almond biscuit & ontario peaches:

Then we ordered three kinds of cheese from Nonna’s cheese cave. Our server let us go downstairs and see the beauties for ourselves. Annie picked a blue cheese, Hesam got sheep’s milk and I went for the goat, which apparently turned out to be Nonna’s favorite,  Chaput St. Maure. Forgot to mention the dessert wine! Moscato was a pleasant surprise, with rose petals and just enough sweetness for a dessert wine.

II. Saturday

As if pigging out and enjoying ourselves last Friday was not enough, I made an appointment to meet a friend for brunch at Saving Grace. I had an Americano from Ezra’s Pound while I waited for this brunch spot to open. I then ordered poached eggs with some potatoes and chopped chorizo and Ontario peaches. The food was good and still light enough:

After the food I remembered that I was hosting a friend that night and went to Kensington Market to stock up on delicious things to cook later that night. I bought two salmon steaks and later that night battered them in blackened seasoning for that night’s feast. I also chopped up some homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers, add them to the arugula mix, diced some peppers and added chia seeds. the dressing was olive oil and some salt. See for yourself:

III. Sunday

The following day I had another brunch planned with Nadja Sayej of ArtStars whom I haven’t seen in a while. We settled to meet at Mitzi’s. I ordered the much-praised huevos rancheros and was disastrously disappointed. Not going to Mitzi’s for brunch ever again. The food was tasteless, prepared without any apparent care, and it the portion was seriously meant to serve three people. Bleh! Not again.

To make things right, I didn’t despair about Mitzi’s and instead walked back home home to attend to several things and to anticipate Meghann and our collage-making time. On Saturday I bought a fine pork chop from Sanagans Meat Locker in anticipation. I got a cocoa sauvignon spices for said pork chops, and I also added some pomegranate sauce to make things right. The following is the pork chop I made, and Meghann’s collard greens with butter. And homegrown tomatoes!

We decadently finished off the night with bacon butterscotch cupcakes from Yummy Stuff.

So yeah, I am going to buckle down this week. Excited for that!

Any questions? Holler!

Lactose-Free Milk or Gratitude

I was in the kitchen at work, washing my dishes, and started spacing out when I noticed a carton of lactose-free milk (organic, too) sitting on the counter, well, standing on the counter (we’ll talk about my semantic hangups with the “sitting” expression some other day), and I thought, my god, in this society we have so much to choose from, so much to  please us, we are free to align ourselves with any belief, any brand, movement and organization and so many take it for granted or absolutely don’t realize that in almost any other part of the world things are not the same way.

I thought back to my Eastern European days, and my country men’s love of sour cream and other dairy. There was no lactose free milk there (but then again, I never met a lactose-intolerant person back there, either), no talk of veganism, gluten-free food and other gastronomic curiosities, self- or doctor-prescribed. What would a vegan do in Sarajevo? Heck, there would be no vegan in the first place, or there would be serious health problems after 1-3 years of veganism. And what about Africa, dare you even mention spelt bread or organic, sustainable, wild/farmed salmon?

I’m not condoning those things, these are great additions to our wonderfully cushioned life in the West, but they are things that a lot of those born here take for granted. Things that don’t even exist in the majority of the world, or for the majority of people. I suppose I’m saying that people should be a little more grateful, or not scorn the poor barista for over/underheating their venti skinny half-sweet hazelnut latte with extra foam. Bitch less about the excess of what you have and instead be grateful for all the wonderful opportunities under your nose.

There’s a Russian expression which applies perfetly: [Они ]с жиру бесятся.

You Sound Like Youre From East London

I just got a haircut from a man who’s been cutting hair for 28 years (including frou frou Kitsilano in Vancouver and 1985’s Spanish Harlem), and I realized than instead of going to hipstertown and seeking out the gayest, skinniest youngster with amazing hair, you should go to men of experience. Just make sure you explain your dreamcut really well. So yay to Islington’s Rough Cut!

I am currently sitting in Wellcome Collection, which is a unique mix of galleries, events and meeting, reading and eating places spread over six floors. Its goal is to engage public with health and well-being; it brings modern art, medicine and peoples ordinary lives to create and exciting place of interest. I am here, so should you when in London.

I went to Camden yesterday evening and had quite a good time. Besides picking up some flaming vintage pieces and trying Moroccan food (my next travel place of interest), I met some nice folks and managed to keep the happy hour prices in a bar way past the happy hour time. Camden is full of Italian daddy’s girls looking for bargains, handsome punks, prima donnas of the burlesque scene who will never see 30 again, skater boys, American Apparel sect members and random misplaced people. It’s heaps of fun, as my Australian friends would say!

By the way, I haven’t been updating a lot lately because I have been busy experiencing life here, but I have certainly been taking notes on what to post about. My autumn schedule will be busy, but calm busy, so expect posts very often!

Catalunya

Well! I am in Spain. It has been my secret desire for some time now, I must admit.

I always wanted to have tapas and enjoy the chatter of passers by.

Barcelona is a wondrous and surreal place in way that a Juan Miro’s work is, with its grotesque animal shapes and disfigured perspective, with its narrow streets that make you slightly uncomfortable but definitely welcome you to get lost and find yourself in some safely tucked away Placa… I keep thinking that I will uncover some secret when I walk around the Barri Gotic or even Barceloneta. I am convinced there is a secret that a handful of locals are able to whisper, yet they all have it in their hearts, Catalan hearts.

My dreams of seeing the artworks by Picasso and Miro are coming true! I absorb the culture like a sponge of sorts and I am extremely happy to have the opportunity to do so. I am grateful for the friends that are with me.

Xavi and Sal are great guides. They took us on a tour yesterday. We went into a small square where the building walls still bear the gunshot marks from the times of the Civil War. I could not believe my eyes, but my video camera did.

The food, the food. Let us discuss – we went to the Mercat Santa Caterina, and my eyes fell out at the sights of fresh seafood, and several dozens of cured ham varieties. Ladies and gentlemen, make sure you go to the markets. Skinned rabbits, goat heads, cow brains, steaks, mushrooms, cheeses… Yes.

Last night we drank homemade sangria (guess what, i’ve acquired the recipe, too…), and went to Gracia neighborhood for some drinks. The narrow streets are littered with small bars and whatnot. Did I mention that I used the Bicing system and biked through the hilly city (in a slightly not so sober state, oops)! I did well, and unfortunately Georgina did not because she and Sal fell off their bikes 😦

And it’s been only two days so far. More museums, more food from the markets awaits me, and more fun. We still have to go to the Sidecar and dance our socks off.

Tomatina happens on Wednesday! Stay tuned. Oh, definitely do. Salud!

Party in Style (N. America excluded)

While working on compiling Travel Packs for PlanetEye, I found some pretty interesting spots. Reading Forbes Travel makes me so much more excited about traveling in general. First of all, their writers are amazing. Second of all, they really do know what to select, especially if you have your AmEx ready to pay for the recommendations.

The story on Insomnia in Style a.k.a. after hours locations from Madrid to Hong Kong. What caught my eye is the fact that people start partying later, and go all the way to the morning, ending a night on town with breakfast. The place I wanna go to in London after hopping from place to place is “London’s first 24-hour upscale brassiere, Vingt-Quatre, is a cross-Channel import meant to fill the hungry stomachs of Chelsea’s party clique with staple French food.” Yeah! Yeah!

I’m not a big fan of extremely upscale venues, because usually the music is not so good and it becomes more about your designer outfit or a quid stack. Maybe I’m too young 😉 Oh yeah, since this post is about “partying in style”, London’s Intercontinental recently started to offer the “3am to 10am exclusive experience” priced at $7,000. It buys you one of the four Signature Suites at the Park Lane property and plenty of Belvedere vodka, mixers and soft beverages for you and 9 others.

Oh, also a while back when I had an issue with squirrels, I wanted to find out if any restaurants cook it. And what do you know, London’s St John Restaurant offered squirrel. Apparently it’s like tender rabbit, or a very gamey chicken or something like that. Point being, why not try that. Unfortunately, it seems that August is not the squirrel season, and I won’t get to try it. When I live there, then.

PS. Jebus Christ, I really do blog about food too much. Well, excuse me, fine food, company and conversation are some of the most important things for me. As are respect, productivity, health and trendhunting.