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September 10, 2014

Lisbon with kids: Jardim Garcia d’Orta (Sound Garden)

Lisbon is full of lovely parks, although many are a little off the beaten track. To celebrate the warmer weather, we’re showcasing some of our favorites. This week, the Jardim Garcia d’Orta… a garden of sound.

Tucked between the Pavilhao Atlantico and the FIL, overlooking the river Tejo, the Jardim Garcia d’Orta is the Expo’s best kept secret.

Jardim Garcia d'Orta

Jardim Garcia d’Orta

A treat for kids tired of being quiet, with plenty of space for older siblings and parents to stretch out on the grass or people-watch in the shade of the nearby riverside promenade.

Giant musical instruments “grow” among the plantings, just begging to be banged, clanged and thumped on. There is even a set of brass plates for dancing, and each one rings out a different note when stepped on.

Making music at the Jardim Garcia d'Orta

Making music at the Jardim Garcia d’Orta

The truth is, the entire waterfront in the Expo is one long series of lovely parks and gardens, with giant girafes, strange sculptures and even a couple playgrounds hidden along its length. The park is less and less landscaped as you go north, finally merging into the natural state of the riverbank near the Vasco de Gama bridge.

But the Garcia d’Orta Sound Garden is special, and it’s one of those places that my kids keep begging to go back to. After all, how often do your parents tell you to make all the noise you want?

July 12, 2014

Parks of Lisbon: Jardim do Torel

Lisbon is full of lovely parks, although many are a little off the beaten track. To celebrate the warmer weather, we’re showcasing some of our favorites. This week, the Jardim do Torel, just up the hill from our vacation rentals and holiday apartments.

Jardim do Torel view of Baixa

View of the Baixa from the Jardim do Torel

The Jardim do Torel winds, snake-like, down the Colina de Santana–starting near the top of the Ascensor do Lavra and ending on Rua do Telhal. Every turn presents you with a new and sweeping view of Lisbon, and all sorts of charming spots are tucked into the corners.

The shady lawn near the top entrance boasts the best views of the Baixa and the river, and the wooden lounge chairs are perfect for putting your feet up for an afternoon rest.

Jardim do Torel - playground

Land, ho!

Down a flight of curving stairs and past the fountain, a simple but well kept playground will delight the younger set. The boat on the “toddler” side is perfect for playing pirates–or Portuguese discoverers, if you want to squeeze in a history lesson!

Stairs at the Jardim do Torel

Stairs at the Jardim do Torel

Just around the corner from the playground, the Esplanada do Torel offers the chance to enjoy yet another view, as well as brunch, or just a bite to eat and a cup of coffee. For a change of pace, try the delicious–though intense–hot chocolate. The large terrace around the cafe is perfect for more running and playing, if anyone still has the energy for it!

The last bit of the Jardim do Torel switchbacks past an elementary school (imagine going to school in this lovely setting!) and down another set of landscaped stairs, allowing you to exit just above the Avenida Metro station and the charming Alentejan restaurant Zé Varunca.

Whether you visit just one part, or walk down (or up!) through the entire garden, the Jardim do Torel is truly a pleasure.

July 2, 2014

Lavra Tram – Ascensor do Lavra

Save steps on your way home to our holiday apartments by taking the Lavra Tram (Ascensor do Lavra) instead of walking.

Lavra Tram, top station

Lavra Tram, top station

Running from the Largo da Anunciada to the Rua Câmara Pestana (which is just off the Calçada de Santana, and only moments from our vacation rentals), the Lavra Tram allows you to ride, instead of walking up the hill. And it’s an interesting piece of Lisbon history, too.

The Lavra Tram is the oldest Ascensor in Lisbon. It has been in near-continuous operation since it first opened on April 19, 1884, and was declared a National Monument in 2002.

Interior of the Lavra Tram

Interior of the Lavra Tram

The tram’s antique interiors will make you feel you’re riding a piece of history, although all the ascensores in Lisbon have been modernized on the inside. Originally, they worked using water-weights and a pulley system: a tank in the car at the top was filled with water, making it heavier than the car at the bottom. When the brake was released, the heavier car would slide downhill, pulling the lighter car (which was attached by a cable) up as it went. Then the tank of car that had just gone down would be emptied, while the tank of the car now at the top of the hill would be filled. Over time, water shortages led to the modification of the system, and the Lavra Tram now runs on electricity.

According to the Carris website, on its first day in service the Lavra Tram offered free rides to all passengers. By the time the Ascensor finally closed on that day, it had been running for 16 hours straight and had transported over 3.000 passengers!

Lavra Tram Schedule

Schedule, click to enlarge

Currently the Ascensor do Lavra runs from 7:45am to 8pm, Monday to Friday, and 9am to 8pm on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The on-board fare is 3,60€ (which buys 2 trips), but if you purchase a VivaViagem card in advance, a ride on the Lavra Tram costs only 1,20€. VivaViagem cards are available in any metro station.

Lastly, if you enjoy riding the Lavra Tram, you should look at the self-guided walking tour of Lisbon’s Ascensores and Elevadores (pdf) published by Carris (the company that operates and maintains them).

April 23, 2014

Lisbon with kids: April 25th simplified

Last year my daughter asked “Mommy, what do we celebrate on April 25th?” I didn’t have a good answer for her then, but now I’ve had a year to think about it, and here’s my answer:

April 25th for kids - Portugal in 1974

Portugal and Colonies in 1974

Many years ago, when your great-grandparents were young, there was a far-flung kingdom without a king. Why it didn’t have a king is another, longer, story, but the truth is, it needed one badly.

April 25th for kids: Antonio Salazar

António Salazar

So a man came to power, calling himself Minister, and a protector of the realm. And at first people loved him. The far-flung kingdom didn’t prosper, exactly, but it became a nicer place to live. Except, as time went on, the Minister became cruel–a tyrant–and wouldn’t let people speak against the government, or go school beyond the 4th grade unless they were wealthy, or read or do what they wanted to, or, generally, be free. And the people became sad, and were afraid of the secret police, and there wasn’t enough to eat, and the jails were very full.

April 25th for kids - soldiers

Soldiers on their way to war

The Lord Minister, whose name was Salazar, fought long, bloody wars in the farthest corners of the kingdom, sending many young men to their deaths. These parts of the kingdom were so far away, they thought they should be their own countries. Salazar wouldn’t allow it. He tried to teach that people from his part of the kingdom were special, chosen and somehow better than the people in the farther-away parts. That his people had a right to conquer and kill others. But not everyone was foolish enough to believe him.

Eventually Salazar died, but the men who ruled after him, the Salazaristas, were no different. And the people were still sad and hungry and afraid.

April 25th for kids - Salgueiro Maia

Salgueiro Maia, one of the leaders of the MFA

Then, around the time your parents were born, or just before, a group of soldiers came together. They had fought in the bloody, far-away wars. They knew these wars were wrong. They knew that the Salazaristas were wrong. They knew that people should be free.

And so they made a daring plan. Calling themselves the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas, or MFA), they decided they would overthrow the tyrants and let the people choose what kind of government they wanted to have, and who would run it, and what kind of laws they would make. They knew that this was called a democracy, and it sounded perfect.

Now, overthrowing a government isn’t easy, and to do it without hurting anyone is harder still. But the MFA believed enough people had been hurt, so they were going to try.

April 25th for kids - warship

Warship on the Tejo, April 25th

Early on the morning of April 25th, 1974, the MFA marched into the offices of a radio station, and took it over. The MFA sent out a message over the radio and asked all the people to remain in their homes. Then they moved their tanks and soldiers into the heart of the city of Lisbon, where the government offices were. The government men in those offices ordered their warships on the Tejo river to shoot at the MFA, to fire at their fellow-soldiers, and the people and city of Lisbon itself. The commanders of the warships didn’t shoot. They wouldn’t obey an order they knew was wrong.

April 25th for kids - carnations

A woman handing out carnations

When the people saw the tanks and soldiers marching, and saw that there was no resistance. They left their houses and filled the streets. They placed red carnations in the muzzles of the soldiers’ rifles and the buttonholes of their jackets. They sang and chanted and marched for their freedom, right alongside the soldiers.

April 25th for kids - tanks

Civilians and soldiers on a tank in the Chiado area of Lisbon

The streets of Lisbon are narrow and winding. The tanks didn’t fit up them very well. But everyone did their best to make room, and somehow they got up to the Carmo square where the leader of the government, Marcelo Caetano, was hiding. Here there was danger, because there were so many people–singing and chanting–and so little space. Someone might be hurt by an accident, or a wild shot. The MFA tried to send the people away, but they wouldn’t go. The MFA tried to reason with the government men, but they wouldn’t listen. So for hours everyone yelled and threatened, but mostly sat and waited, until finally someone was found who the government men would listen to, and in the end Marcelo Caetano, along with all his ministers and secret police, surrendered. In the end the people sang and celebrated and threw flowers, and the soldiers were heroes.

April 25th for kids - largo do carmo

The Largo do Carmo, April 25, 1974

Of course, that wasn’t really the end, because this is a true story. It was only the beginning. The far-flung kingdom became several countries, and each one tried to find a way to decide what kind of government it wanted, and who should run it, and what laws they should make.

The little country of Portugal, where all this took place, is now a democracy and–despite what the soldiers thought–it isn’t perfect. Sometimes people are still sad or hungry or afraid. But at least they are free.

And that freedom is what we celebrate on April 25th. We celebrate the fact that the people and the soldiers fought for their freedom, with flowers and singing and hope, instead of guns.

April 25th


August 8, 2013

Lisbon with Teenagers: entertaining teens in Lisbon

Traveling with teens can be a challenge because… well, because teens can be a challenge! But there’s no reason why you can’t have fun in Lisbon with teenagers.

I was 17 when I first visited Lisbon, for a week, with my parents and 4-year-old brother (joy of joys). But I ended up having a great time. I love history, and my parent made sure to hit all the important historical sights: St Jorge’s Castle (which houses an active archeological dig) and the Alfama, Belém (where Vasco de Gama launched his ships), and the Moorish castle in Sintra.

But despite my parent’s efforts to plan a trip everyone would enjoy, my very favorite days were:

The day I planned myself: Sometimes it’s not what you do, so much as how you do it. My parents took advantage of the fact that I was longing to be grown-up by having me plan the activities for a whole day: what to do, where to eat and how to get there. To do the same, have your teen search for things that interest them in Lisbon, whether that’s beaches or science or Lusitanian horses or history. Of course, you may want to supervise just a little, to make sure they don’t plan something totally crazy! (My little brother planned a day, as well. We went to see the dinosaur tracks in the Serra de Aire. And I have to admit, that was actually pretty cool, too.)

The day I spent by myself: Sure, we go on family vacations to be together. But being together can be more fun if you have some time apart, too. My parents let me spend a whole day by myself at the Park of the Nations while they took my little brother to the zoo. I bought my own ticket to the Oceanário, ordered my own lunch at the shopping center, and generally felt super -grown-up for being on my own in a foreign city. Obviously that kind of freedom may not be appropriate for some (younger!) teens, but even a shopping trip becomes much more exciting if you stay at the door and let your teen browse and even buy their own. Think about what your teen is allowed to do at home and consider giving them similar freedoms in Lisbon, at least for a day. Make sure they have a cell phone for emergencies, of course!

Here are more ideas for activities in Lisbon that may appeal to teensagers, for time on their own or together as a family:

  • Go to the beach (and schedule a surf lesson!): If your teen is wondering why their friends get to go on “cool” vacations, while they’re stuck with some old city, take them to the beach, and show them that old can still be hip. As a plus, younger siblings will probably love it, too.
  • Hang out at the skate park at the Park of the Nations (link to site in Portuguese, but with a map): Or, better yet, take your younger kids to play in the park nearby, while your teen hangs at the skate park. (The whole riverfront on that side of Lisbon is one long park.) We’ll be happy to find a loaner skateboard for you, if you let us know ahead of time.
  • Bike rentals at the Park of the Nations: If your teen likes sports, but skating isn’t their thing, rent bikes at the kiosk between the Vasco de Gama shopping center and the river. You can bike all along the Tejo there, enjoying the view and the lovely parks. Take a picnic lunch!
  • Go shopping in the Baixa Lisboeta: Tell your teen to think of the Baixa as a big outdoor shopping mall. While they’re in Berska, H&M or whatever little store strikes their fancy, you can admire the more historical sights, have coffee at one of the many outdoor cafes on the Rua Augusta or duck into the MUDE (it’s free, so don’t worry if you don’t have time to see everything).

Whatever your teen’s interests, they’ll almost certainly find something they’d like to visit. Turn their tech-savy to your advantage and have them search online for activities that sound cool to them. Nothing worth having comes easy, and visiting Lisbon with teenagers can be great fun, too!

What is/was your best idea for things to do with teens in Lisbon?