Tag Archives: Featured
February 6, 2016

The most authentic souvenirs: A Vida Portuguesa

“Do you remember this?” “I haven’t seen one of these in years!” Visiting this store was a walk down memory lane for my Portuguese husband… Which is exactly what makes it the best place to shop for authentic souvenirs.

With all the little lojas (stores) around the city selling the same postcards, magnets and bric-a-brac, it can be hard to find truly authentic souvenirs in Lisbon. A Vida Portuguesa (A Portuguese Life) is a lovely shop in the Bairro Alto, Mercado da Ribeira and Intendente (as well as in Porto). They feature a range of goods made and beloved in Portugal, including many that are a “blast from the past”. Some of their things are beautiful, some are more jokey, almost gag gifts, but all of them have some specific connection to Portuguese history or pop culture.

I was especially happy to visit their store in Intendente recently. Just a few minutes walk from our houses, this is an area of town that used to be sketchy–especially at night. But the Lisbon city government has made a significant effort at rehabilitation, and it’s working. So much so that the area was featured in a recent New York Times article!

A Vida Portuguesa - authentic souvenirs

A Vida Portuguesa – Intendente

The Vida Portuguesa store is a cornerstone of the plaza at the center of the rehabilitation. Sitting next to the Fábrica da Viúva Lamego, a tile factory that went out of business some years ago–leaving behind a gorgeous building (on the right in the picture), this store was considered the “prettiest shop in town” by TimeOut Lisboa.

Bringing new life to an historic part of town, showcasing the old and the modern side-by-side: this store gives you a real glimpse of Portuguese Life. And could there be a better place to shop for authentic souvenirs than one that the Portuguese themselves thoroughly enjoy?

November 28, 2014

Portuguese Music that isn’t Fado: Cante Alentejano

Don’t misunderstand, we love Fado: it’s beautiful, and it speaks so well to the Portuguese soul. But sometimes it seems like Fado is the only Portuguese music around, which just isn’t true. In fact, Cante Alentejano has been named a part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Cante Alentejano

Cante Alentejano

Cante Alentejano is acapella, polyphonic folk music, similar in style to Sacred Harp singing in the Southern United States. Originally sung by agricultural workers in the fields, the songs tell of the beauties and hardships of life in the Alentejo, of hard work but also the importance of family, religion, community and love.

The songs normally begin with a “ponto” who sings a solo (or a duet with an “alto”, singing in a higher register) and is then joined by a choir of voices filling in the melodies. The origins of Cante Alentejano are not fully known, but it shows influences of both ancient Greek and Arabic traditions.

During Portugal’s dictatorship, Cante Alentejano was used as propaganda, since it was supposed to show how wonderful it was to be a simple, unschooled peasant. But the singers wrote lyrics filled with double meanings, undermining Salazar’s scheme. “Grandola, Villa Morena”, a famous piece of Cante, was used by the Movimento das Forças Armadas as a signal to launch the 25th of April Carnation Revolution.

Currently, groups dedicated to Cante Alentejano keep the tradition alive, both in the Alentejo itself and in whatever part of Portugal–or of the world–that they live in.

As of November 28th, 2014, Cante Alentejano is considered a part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, meaning that efforts will be made to preserve this important style of folk music for future generations.

To learn more about Cante Alentejano, watch the video that was submitted to UNESCO, which explains the history of Cante, and also what makes it unique:

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).

March 7, 2013

5 things to do in Lisbon when it rains

Rain, rain, go away / Come again some other day / All the lisboetas want to play…

The Portuguese tend to disappear off the streets when it rains, since—according to popular belief—getting a soaking will make you sick.

But if you don’t live here in Lisboa, you don’t always have the luxury of waiting for a sunny day. So what should you if it rains while you’re in Lisbon? Here are five of our favorite suggestions for rainy days:

Lisbon in the rain: damp, but still lovely

Lisbon in the rain: damp, but still lovely

1. Go out anyway– The weather in Lisbon is changeable, especially in the spring and fall. There are plenty of “rainy” days where you get hours of sunshine in between the moments of actual rain. If it’s not too cold, go out anyway, and explore Lisbon. Just take an umbrella. And if you get caught in a shower? Step into a café for tea or coffee and one of the many delicious Portuguese pastries… you know you wanted one… (well, at least, I always do!).

2. Visit the Oceanário – Lisbon’s Oceanário, located in the Parque das Nações (Oriente metro stop), is one of the largest aquariums in the world. The central “Deep Ocean” tank, where hundreds of species swim together in a space the size of several swimming pools, is fascinating for kids from 9 months to 99 years. My kids love the Oceanário, I love it, and my grandfather always wants to go when he comes to Lisbon. Don’t miss the Oceanário… even if it doesn’t rain!

3. Experience the Lisbon Story Center – The Lisbon Story Center, located in the Terreiro do Paço, is a multimedia experience where you can learn about the history of Lisbon from pre-Roman times to the present. There is a children’s version of the audio tour, which is very well done, but the youngest may find their interest waning towards the middle. Ages 7 and up is probably best.

4. Go to a museum – Lisbon has dozens of museums, everything from art to design to puppets, electricity, coaches or science. Whatever your personal interests, there’s almost certainly something that will interest you. Check out the list at GoLisbon.com for ideas. (Oh, wait! The museum at the Carmo church ruins is partially outdoors! Don’t pick that one when it’s raining…)

5. Watch a movie – If you prefer recent films, most of the main shopping malls (Vasco de Gama, Colombo, El Corte Inglés) have movie theatres. With kids, look for the letters “VO” (versão original / original version) to avoid a movie dubbed in Portuguese. On the other hand, the Portuguese Cinema Museum (Cinemateca Portuguesa, Museu do Cinema) shows classic movies from many countries, with tickets costing less than 3€. And last, but not least, Lisbon hosts several film festivals a year: IndieLisboa, Monstra, doclisboa, and MOTELx, among others. Check with the tourism office to see if there is a film festival going on during your stay.

Or, of course, if you don’t feel like braving the weather, stay in: read a book about Lisbon, play a game or just relax. You are on vacation, after all. We try to keep a stock of games and books at each of our holiday rentals, but feel free to ask us about additional options from our lending library.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Lisbon when it rains?

October 22, 2011

Where should we eat in Lisbon?

Check out our interactive Googlemap of our favorite local Lisbon restaurants and cafés!

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VisitingPortugal Lisbon Restaurant Recommendations

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And 6 Vegetarian Restaurants, too:

VisitingPortugal Vegetarian Recommendations

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Plus a map of Lisbon’s Best Ice Cream, 8 shops in/around the Rossio. (Per TimeOut, July2010):

Lisbon’s Best Ice Cream

… Enjoy!