Saturday, September 14, 2019

Excellent Free tour in Lisbon - Maggie

... so on our previous visit, way back in 2002, we just wandered and blundered on our own. It's very easy to blunder in Lisbon, no previous experience necessary. This time, we wisely decided to take advantage of the free guided [walking] tours. You are, of course, expected to tip the guide at the end of the tour; that is made perfectly clear up-front. But I assure you that it was worth every penny, or rather euro-cent.

We signed up online (duh!), see, and chose the option called Centre - the heart of the city. The meeting place was none other than my fave "Benetton Square" (see previous post), next to the Fernando Pessoa Sculpture, and the guide would be carrying a blue umbrella.

Nina & Fernando Pessoa. Note T-shirt, indicative of balmy weather
 Not surprisingly, the statue above was drowning in tourists that morning... so we moved a few meters away, to the statue of the poet Antonio Ribeiro, smack in the center of the square:

Maggie, a.k.a. Margarida, was absolutely great. An energetic young (27) woman with good English (acquired, apparently, from watching TV!), a sense of humor, a people person (a must for a job like this!), well-versed in the history of Lisbon, full of ethical and moral insights, and slightly hyperactive :-)  Not to worry -- she didn't tire us out too much...

The Amazing Maggie, w/blue umbrella over right shoulder
The tourists (mostly couples) were from London, Brazil, Romania, Namibia, Germany, and New Zealand.
Frankly, I didn't remember any details from our previous visit to Bairro Alto, the so-called Bohemian part of town with its endless bars and restaurants; and definitely didn't know any of the local history. So it was all new and fascinating stuff.

After two and a half hours of energetic walking, standing, looking around and listening, the time came to say goodbye, at the huge Praca do Comercio:

Thank you, Maggie!
Along with the above photo, Maggie sent us all a list of non-touristy restaurants and bars, the ones that the locals favor. She also included vegetarian restaurants, because there's always a demand for such.
However, by then Michael and I were both hungry and tired, and settled for a pizza nearby, before taking the Metro back "home" and collapsing for a good siesta.

Which doesn't mean we didn't profit from Maggie's recommendations! In the evening we took the bus to o arêgos, which unfortunately has no website, but you can read about it both on TripAdvisor, see here, and on Facebook, on this page. It was delicious, and very reasonably priced.

Next post: about our second walking-tour. Coming soon. Or soonish :-)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Hello Again, Lovely Lisbon!

Bertrand Bookstore - est. 1732, Chiado district
As often happens when you’re touring a foreign country, your host – or tour-guide, waiter, or receptionist – asks you:  Is this your first time in [Timbuctoo]?
As you’ve gathered, this wasn’t our first time.
“No,” one of us would reply, “we’ve been here before, seventeen years ago. In October 2002.”
The youngsters never failed to stare at us in amazement: “Wow! It’s changed so much since!”  I’d smile in amusement. Sure, 17 years is a big chunk of an under-thirty person’s life. Lots of things didn’t exist 17 years ago. But what does exist are my handwritten travel journals; specifically, the one from our previous Spain-and-Portugal trip.

Of course I re-read it before this trip, and also took it with for reference, for the fun of it. And guess what? In essence, not much has changed.

Luckily, we learned from experience and didn’t drive into Lisbon. Downtown is still a maze of narrow cobbled streets, with cars, buses, trams and pedestrians pushing through with no consideration for anyone. Everyone wants to use the same street at the same time. Pedestrians happily ignore traffic lights and just charge ahead, in competition with the vehicles around them. Yep, that’s as true now as it was then. Only now there are also electric bicycles and scooters! Almost as bad as in the center of Tel Aviv!

This time, we arrived at Lisbon Airport and boarded the Metro, (one large suitcase and two trolleys) taking the linha vermelha [red line]  to the end, then transferring to the linha azul [blue line] for one stop, since my old notes reminded me that the Parque stop was closer to our hotel than the Marquis de Pombal.  Yes, we’d booked the same hotel we stayed at in 2002! Hotel Avenida Park, Av. Sidonio Pais 6. We remembered it as a small but pleasant place. To do it justice, it has been refurbished since. But it was still convenient and fairly quiet. Do you want to know whether I recommend it? – Sure! Just take into account that the rooms with the double bed (~140x190 cm) are quite small, whereas the Premium rooms are larger but have twin beds. The cost is the same. Next time I’ll know to order the larger room, and just move the beds together. (I did ask the receptionist and he said that’s doable.)
Bed very close to the wall

Not much space for sun-salutations...

Just like last time, our first walk around town was confusing… There are beautiful boulevards, huge plazas with gorgeous statues, columns and arches; an assortment of shops, both la-di-dah and unassuming; plenty of cafes, tabernas and restaurants; and more tourists than locals, it seemed. Like last time, we bought a 3-day unlimited public transport (Metro & bus) pass; though this time you did it at self-service/automatic machines, rather than having to buy them from an actual clerk; and this time the queues of [mostly young] tourists were unbelievably long. The default instructions are obviously in Portuguese, but you could opt for English and probably a few other languages; and the announcements while on board as to the next station etc were made first in Portuguese and then in English. And speaking of English – this time, too, we were delighted that the TV channels broadcasting English shows/series do not dub them into Portuguese. What a relief. Can you imagine Leroy Jethro Gibbs or Sheldon Cooper speaking Portuguese?...

And a propos Portuguese: To this day, I haven’t been able to master more than three expressions in this language… Obrigada/obrigado (“thank you”), bom dia (“good day”), and por favor (“please”). I can decipher some written words, but for the most part I can’t pronounce them properly, nor can I follow a native speaker. I feel a total failure as a would-be linguist L

I don’t remember exactly what the breakfast room at our hotel looked like in 2002; though I had a mobile phone, it did not have a camera. People didn’t go about constantly clicking-and-posting. But my journal does mention the coffee machine that made all sorts of very strong coffee. Well – the current machine is obviously a newer model, but it sure has many options and the coffee is still very strong!
Coffee machine & hot water
I resorted to the same ploy as previously: Nearly-fill your cup or mug with milk/water, then add a shot of coffee.

Re-decorated breakfast room w/diners (No, I don't know them...)

Redecorated breakfast room
On the second day of our first visit, after hours of wandering and sightseeing, I found myself at the spot which was to become my favorite hangout: Benetton Square, or as it is better known, Largo do Chiado.  What is it that makes this square so attractive, so adorable?... It seems to have an ambiance all its own. The fact that musicians, some of them darn good, perform there for tips, might be a contributing factor. 

Performers at the center of Largo do Chiado

Musician at Largo do Chiado

Musician, with Benetton as backdrop :-)

Also, it’s not as grand as Praça do Comércio nor as dizzying as Praça do Rossio with its wavy cobbled design. But more about that in my next post. TTFN!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

New Orleans' best attractions

 ... that is, aside from the ubiquitous, marvelous jazz scene!
As promised in my previous post, below are the two sites that impressed us the most. Obviously, New Orleans has more to offer; but there's only so much one can do in four days.

The National WWII Museum is unabashedly didactic. Not that I blame them; they state their educational mission right on the front page of their website; it is a huge undertaking, in partnership with Arizona State University. It is anything but "merely" a museum.  
Personally, I didn't come to learn more about WW2; I came to see how that complex period is displayed. The management and the designers went to great lengths to make the concept of war and the reality of this specific war as tangible and explicit as can be, without actually scattering disfigured dead bodies around... It is aimed mainly at the younger generation, and is intended to be visited several times, by students accompanied by teachers. I hope it is accomplishing its purpose.
As it happens, I wasn't dressed for the occasion. By which I mean that I wasn't prepared for the icy air-conditioning. So I couldn't bear to spend much time there. I hurried through "battle scenes", trenches and weapons, aiming for the more open pavillion, which was also closer to my heart: the "Warbirds" display of old aircraft. Can't help it -- I'm partial to fighter planes of every sort. As I mentioned in one of my Alaska trip posts, my father worked for the Israel Air Force most of his life, and used to take me with him to "his" air-force base occasionally, where I got to see IDF aircraft up close and personal, from old Pipers and Dakotas to the French Mystere and Mirage. So I like old airplanes, and took more pics than you care to see, so I'll be brave and limit myself: 

B-17E-BO Flying Fortress "My Gal Sal"
The museum has a world-class collection that contains something for everyone; whatever your preferences are in art, you're likely to find some "nice stuff", to put it mildly. The docent who took us on a short tour, for instance, chose to concentrate on the Photography category. Sorry to say I don't remember a word of what she said. After the tour, left to our own devices, we wandered, gaped and gawked until we were dizzy and needed some fresh air. 
Wise move.
Mirror Labyrinth, Jeppe Hein
Even without the statues, the garden is beautiful; as it says on the website, it "... is located within a mature existing landscape of pines, magnolias and live oaks surrounding two lagoons". 
As you can see from this map, there's no way you can do it justice in one visit. (What else is new...) 
History of the Conquest, Hank Willis Thomas
Diana, Saint-Gaudens, Augustus
Whether you prefer modern, abstract art, mind-blowing original creations, Greek/Roman looking torsos, or intricately decorative works, you'll find them all here.
  Naturally, we took pictures like there's no tomorrow. Even though our mobile-phone photos aren't as good as the ones provided by the museum. Nonetheless, we were enchanted by this sculpture garden, and I'll just upload a very few favorites, in the hope of whetting your appetite.


Overflow, Plensa, Jaume

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

America the Beautiful - part 2, New Orleans

... so when the Internet was buzzing with updates about Hurricane Barry threatening Louisiana, I got really worried. The horrors of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina were revived in my memory while the driver who picked us up from the New Orleans International Airport acted as tour guide (for a few extra bucks), pointing out landmarks, explaining stuff, and generally giving us an informative introduction to New Orleans and environs.

We don't actually know anyone in New Orleans; this was our first visit there: 4 nights, 3 full days plus two half-days. Just a taste. A smattering. But this one-of-a-kind city drew us in, engulfed us, fascinated us. When Barry came charging (July 13th), I immediately thought of the staff of Melrose Mansion, our home-away-from-home. So I dropped them a line, to let them know I was thinking of them and hope they were all hale and healthy. The only thing that bothered me when writing was that I didn't remember the names of our hosts! Very untypically, I hadn't written a single line in my [handwritten] travel journal during our stay. There was simply no time. For once, I was experiencing rather than recording. Sure, I took pictures with my iPhone. And I did jot down the occasional two-word note on my phone, saying to myself that that's better than nothing and will jog my memory. Ahem.
Long story short: this post will be more pics than text. Also, I'm delighted to say Melrose Mansion graciously and promptly answered my message, saying "Thank you! We are all safe!" (Keana Holmes, Reservations Supervisor.)

Entrance to our spacious room

Our bedroom

Our bedroom
Incidentally: See the neat woven rug on the floor? Well, here's a close-up of it: 
Woven rug -- coarse and unpleasant to the touch
It was the worst item in the room. Ours looked and felt brand-new, compared, say, to the one in our friend Lynne's room, which was a bit worn and therefore not as coarse. A half-decent mat or carpet are important to me, for my sun-salutations routine. This thing was unpleasant to walk barefoot on, let alone place your hands, knees, shins, or any other part of your body on it. I ended up spreading a bath-towel on it, which helped to a certain extent.
Our bathroom

Note the open umbrella in the bathroom; an indication that, though the weather was hot on the whole, it also rained, enough to require an umbrella.
We all settled in comfortably: My husband and I, and our dear friend Lynne, who flew over from Dallas, TX, to spend some time with us at the same hotel. Melrose Mansions only offers breakfast. Luckily, just across the road is Buffa's Lounge, a cozy restaurant-bar with a decent menu and a separate room for musical performances. That took care of lunch, and was an easy solution on other days as well.
Michael & Lynne crossing over to Buffa's
What else did we do? Walk around, of course, as far as The Port of New Orleans, (see below),

ate at several good-food, good-music places such as Adolfo's and Crescent City Brewhouse,
Inside Adolfo's; cozy and pleasant

611 Frenchmen Street, NOLA
Our friendly waitress, Joyce, took this pic of the three of us at the lively Brewhouse
and clapped and stomped to the upbeat music with the rest of the crowd diagonally-opposite Adolfo's, next to the Frenchmen Art & Books corner:

Possibly because I wasn't writing in my journal, I recorded some of our experiences on Facebook, complete with pics, of course. But not all my readers are on Facebook, believe it or not! 
I will quit here, and save the two most impressive locations we visited in New Orleans for the next post. I'm referring to The WWII Museum, and the Sculpture Garden of the New Orleans Museum of Art.