Food and drink, Porto tónico - a Portuguese alternative to gin and tonic

Porto tónico – a Portuguese alternative to gin and tonic

At cocktail hour there is a Portuguese alternative to the traditional gin and tonic. It is called porto tónico (also known as portónic) and is essentially white port poured over ice and topped up with tonic water. A ratio of one-quarter port and three-quarters tonic makes a very refreshing drink, but you can change the ratios to make a stronger drink if you prefer. Add a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint, as in the porto tónicos served at the terrace café in front of the Sandeman port cellars in Porto.


Lisbon, Viva Viagem - Lisbon's rechargeable public transport card

Viva Viagem – Lisbon’s rechargeable public transport card


The Viva Viagem rechargeable card makes travelling on public transport in Lisbon really easy. We bought ours at the airport Metro station and noticed how many tourists were standing at the automatic machines scratching their heads as they were unsure what to buy. It didn’t help that the instructions were high on the wall out of the eyeline of anyone shorter than 8 feet tall! Here are some tips on how to buy the card and recharge the card. The Viva Viagem card can be bought from any of the automatic ticket machines which can be found in the entrance hall of all Metro stations and the train stations of Rossio and Cais do Sodré. We bought and initially loaded our cards at a Metro station and later recharged them at a train station, so the machines look slightly different in the photos below, but the principle is the same.

All the machines are touch-screen. The first thing to do is choose a language. Instructions will then appear in the language of your choice.imageTo buy a new card, select ‘Without a reusable card’.imageThen choose the number of cards you require. Please note that each person must have their own card. Each card costs 50 cents and this will be added to the total you will pay. Do a different transaction for each card you require, so select ‘1 Viva Viagem card’.imageThen choose ‘Stored Value’. imageThis will take you to the next screen where you can select an amount to add to the card between €3 and €40.imageA screen will appear asking for a VAT number. Press ‘Cancel’, as this only applies to Portuguese residents.imageThen select your method of payment. The machines accept cash or credit/debit cards.

To recharge the card or to find out the balance on the card after selecting the language you want the instructions in, select the ‘With a reusable card’ option and put the card in the card reader slot or on the card reader panel, depending on the type of machine. The balance will appear on the screen. Select ‘Recharge’ and continue as before, choosing the amount you want to top-up. You will not be charged 50 cents to top-up. Don’t remove the card from the reader until you have completed the top-up.

The card can be used on the Metro, trams, funiculars and the Santa Justa lift, buses, ferries and some suburban trains (including trains to Sintra, Estoril and Cascais). To enter the Metro and train platforms hold the card over the scanner and the gates will open. Do the same to leave. On buses, trams, funiculars and the Santa Justa lift you only need to scan it at the start of the journey either on the scanner next to the driver or, on modern trams, on the scanners located throughout the tram. You cannot top-up the card on buses or trams, so make sure you have enough credit on the card before boarding.imageFares

As well as the convenience, another good reason to buy a rechargeable Viva Viagem card is that journeys work out cheaper than with a standard ticket. For example, as of 2017 a one-way journey on the Metro, bus, tram, funicular and Santa Justa lift costs €1.30 and a one-way ticket to Sintra or Cascais by train is €1.85.

Lisbon, Lisbon - the purple city

Lisbon – the purple city

In May Lisbon becomes a city bathed in purple thanks to the jacaranda trees being in bloom. They can be seen on the avenues and in the parks and small squares all over the city. They are a true feast for the eyes and really lift the spirits as you walk around.

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Jardim Botto Machado, near the National Pantheon, Lisbon


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Jardim Botto Machado, from the National Pantheon, Lisbon


Rossio square, Lisbon


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Rua Dom Pedro, near the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint, Lisbon


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Rua Dom Pedro, near the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint, Lisbon


Jardim Dom Luis
Jardim Dom Luís, near Cais do Sodré, Lisbon


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Jardim de Belém, near the Jerónimos Monastery, Belém, Lisbon

Bola de Berlim, Food and drink

Bola de Berlim

Bola de Berlim2

The Bola de Berlim (Berlin Ball) may look like an ordinary doughnut, but it is uniquely Portuguese. The recipe is based on that of a German doughnut (Berliner Pfannkuchen), which was reportedly brought over to Portugal by Jewish refugees during the Second World War. However, it has been given a Portuguese identity by adding a filling of creme pasteleiro (a type of egg custard similar to crème pâtissière) instead of jam. As well as the traditional egg custard creme, there are also other flavours on offer, such as chocolate or strawberry, and there is even an option to have a Bola de Berlim without any filling (sem creme). Who would have thought that ordering a doughnut could be so complicated! As with all sweet snacks in Portugal it is delicious but very calorific, which makes it ironic that it is also one of the most popular snacks sold on Portuguese beaches! 

Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon, Lisbon

Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon

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Statue of ‘A Guardadora de Patos’ (‘The Duck Keeper’) by António Augusto da Costa Motta (nephew) (1917), Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon

The Jardim da Estrela (Estrela Garden) is one of the loveliest parks in Lisbon. Located opposite the Basílica da Estrela in the Estrela district, a tram ride away from the commercial centre of Lisbon, it is a wonderful place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy parts of the city. We visited it early one afternoon after spending the morning in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga and were pleasantly surprised to find a café with outside tables overlooking one of the park’s ponds, where we had a very nice lunch. We also discovered an unusual kiosk, the Biblioteca Jardim (Garden Library), which acts as a small library in the park. What a lovely idea to encourage local people to come to the park and read a book or newspaper or magazine, all of which can be borrowed from the kiosk. Another charming structure in the centre of the park is the nineteenth-century bandstand, dating from 1884, made of wrought iron with a filigree decoration, which reminded me of an Edwardian lady’s hat. It is still used for summer concerts. Added to these reasons to visit are flower beds and shrubs planted around the paths and areas of lawn, benches under the shade of the trees, statues from different eras dotted around the park, plus ducks and fish in the ponds and young peacocks wandering around. The park is very popular with local families and groups of friends at the weekend and it is easy to see why. We found it hard to leave!


Jardim da Estrela, Praça da Estrela, Lisbon; Number 25 and 28 trams

Opening hours: 7am-midnight

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Café in Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon

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Café in Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon

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Biblioteca Jardim in Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon

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Bandstand in Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon

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Statue of Antero Quental by Salvador Barata Feyo (1951)Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon

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Statue of João de Deus by José Laranjeira Santos (1996), Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon

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Statue ‘O Cavador’  (‘The Hoer’) by António Augusto da Costa Motta (uncle) (1913) in Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon

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Young peacock in Jardim da Estrela, Lisbon

Lisbon, Museu Guarda Nacional Republicana, Lisbon

Museu Guarda Nacional Republicana, Lisbon


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Guards outside Museu Guarda Nacional Republicana, Lisbon

The Museu Guarda Nacional Republicana (Republican National Guard Museum) may not be the most enticing name for a museum, but we stumbled across the building next to the Carmo Archaeological Museum in the Chiado district of Lisbon and were drawn to it by the guard on duty, dressed in a smart dark-blue uniform complete with horse hair plume on his helmet and holding a sword. As it was free* we decided to have a look inside and it turned out to be a little gem of a museum, particularly for anyone like me who is interested in the history of the 1974 Revolution. The small museum is located in the headquarters of the Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR), the military-run police force that polices all areas of the country except the major cities, which is housed in part of the Convento do Carmo. It opened in 2014 to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the ‘Carnation Revolution’, when, on 25th April 1974, the right-wing dictatorship was overthrown in a more or less bloodless coup led by a group of left-wing officers who opposed the regime. The display of artefacts from the Revolution, particularly the gun with a symbolic carnation in the barrel, was one of the most memorable sections of this museum. There were also several old GNR motorbikes dotted around, plus weapons, uniforms and other memorabilia from different periods of the GNR’s history since its inception in 1911. It is set out chronologically and well-curated with recreations of scenes from the past and real objects combined with life-size photos, as in the photo of two rural policemen with bicycles which acts as a backdrop to the exhibit of a real bicycle. As we left the museum we were treated to the spectacle of the changing of the guard: it was quite low-key, to the point that no one else seemed to notice it was happening!


Museu Guarda Nacional Republicana, Largo do Carmo, Lisbon

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10am-6pm.

*At the time of writing the entrance was free, but as of 2018 it is €2.