Lisbon, Parque das Nações: Lisbon’s ultramodern neighbourhood

Parque das Nações: Lisbon’s ultramodern neighbourhood

‘Gil’, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

The Parque das Nações (Nations’ Park) is Lisbon’s newest neighbourhood and revels in its modernity. It is located approximately 8km north-east of the centre of Lisbon, on the Tejo Estuary and in stark contrast to the historical centre of Lisbon it is marked by its modern architecture, art and open spaces. It all began in the 1990s when an abandoned, derelict and polluted industrial park was chosen as the site for the Expo ’98 (Lisbon International Exposition). Everything on the site was built from scratch and allowed renowned architects to design creative new buildings aligned to the theme of Expo ’98, ‘The Oceans, a legacy for the Future’. As well as looking to the future, the theme made reference to Portugal’s past as a seafaring nation and combined Expo ’98 with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India in 1498. Many of the buildings are directly named after Vasco da Gama or have a link to the sea and the Age of Discovery.

The Torre Vasco da Gama (Vasco da Gama Tower), designed by Leonor Janeiro and Nick Jacobs, which at 145m is the tallest building in Lisbon. Built on the site of a former oil refinery, it is designed to look like the sail of a caravel (the type of ship sailed by Vasco da Gama). It originally had a public restaurant and observation deck at the top of the tower, but is now part of the luxury Myriad Hotel and is no longer open to the public.

The Ponte Vasco da Gama (Vasco da Gama Bridge) was designed by a team of French and Portuguese architects, namely Michel Virlogeux, Alain Montois, Charles Lavigne and Armando Rito. The bridge goes across the Tejo River from the suburb of Sacavém on the north bank to the suburbs of Montijo and Alcochete on the south bank and is the longest bridge in Europe at 17km in length.

Ponte Vasco da Gama, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

The Centro Vasco da Gama (Vasco da Gama Shopping Centre) and the twin towers Torre São Gabriel and Torre São Rafael were designed by José Quintela. The two towers are named after two of Vasco da Gama’s ships and the top of the towers are built to look like the prow of a boat and. Each tower is 110m in height and made up of 25 floors of residential flats.

Centro Vasco da Gama, Parque das Nações, Lisbon
Torre São Gabriel and Torre São Rafael, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

The Pavilhão Atlântico (Atlantic Pavilion, also known as Altice Arena) is a large multipurpose arena designed by Regino Cruz with a roof of wooden beams based on the inverted framework of a 16th-century ship and which appears to be a cross between a marine creature and a spaceship.

Pavilhão Atlântico, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

The Oceanário de Lisboa (Lisbon’s Oceanarium) consists of two buildings. The original building, the Oceans’ Building, was designed by the American architect Peter Chermayeff and is surrounded by water and accessed by a bridge to give the impression of boarding a boat about to embark on a voyage. The main aquarium contains over 100 species from all the oceans of the world. The newer Sea Building designed by Pedro Campos Costa is covered in ceramic tiles created by the Spanish ceramicist Toni Cumella which represent fish scales.

Oceanário de Lisboa, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

Other buildings may have less of a connection to the theme of oceans, but are important in terms of modern architecture.

Gare do Oriente (Oriente station) is one of the most emblematic structures in the Parque das Nações. It was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava the pièce de résistance being the stark skeletal roof of steel and glass, with gothic-inspired arches and columns, which gives it the appearance of a modern cathedral.

Oriente station, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

Floating silently above the Parque das Nações are the cable cars which allow a bird’s eye view of the neighbourhood. They run between the two Telecabine Lisboa stations at the Vasco da Gama Tower (to the north) and the Oceanarium (to the south).

Cable cars, Torre Vasco da Gama and Ponte Vasco da Gama, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

The Pavilhão do Conhecimento – Centro Ciência Viva (The Pavilion of Knowledge Science Centre) is an interactive science and technology museum. It was designed by the architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça along minimalist lines where visitors enter the museum along a dark corridor with walls containing mathematical symbols and then find themselves in a large bright foyer with walls made of aluminium-covered panels with cut-out ASCILL symbols (the universal computer language).

The Pavilhão de Portugal (Portugal Pavilion) is a building used for temporary exhibitions with a distinctive inverted canopy roof over the outdoor space, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira.

The controversial Casino de Lisboa, which opened in 2006 in the former Pavilhão do Futuro building, which had stood empty for several years after Expo ’98. The original building was designed by Paula Santos, Rui Ramos and Miguel Guedes, but redesigned by Fernando Jorge Correia when it was turned into a casino. It is hard to miss the building with the words ‘Casino Lisboa’ in enormous diagonal letters across the black-glass front of the building.

On the outskirts of the Parque das Nações is a reminder of the area’s former industrial past, the Torre da Galp (Galp Tower), an oil tower which was part of a former oil refinery which has been preserved as a symbol of the area’s industrial past.

Torre da Galp, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

Art and sculpture in the Parque das Nações

The Expo ’98 Public Art Project has resulted in over 50 works of modern art and sculpture by famous Portuguese and international artists throughout the area. It is like a free open-air art gallery. Here are a small number of examples.

‘Gil’ (1998), pictured at the top of this article, is a loveable cartoon character with a wave for his hair, created by the sculptor Artur Moreira and the painter António Modesto, and who was the official mascot of Expo ’98. He is named ‘Gil’ as an homage to the 15th-century navigator Gil Eanes, who successfully sailed beyond the dangerous Cape Bojador on the West African coast in 1434.

Homenagem a Dom João II’ (‘Homage to King João II’, 1998) by Manuel Rosa depicts the king who ruled Portugal during the Age of Discovery as an abstract three-legged figure in bronze.

‘Homenagem a Dom João II’, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

Lago das Tágides’ (‘Lake of the Tagus Nymphs, 1998’) by João Cutileiro is a marble sculpture of naked women in a pool of water, some lying in the water, some kicking their legs and others bathing, while an empty boat is nearby. The sculpture is a reference to a verse from Canto I of Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads) by Luís Vaz de Camões (1572) in which the narrator calls on the Tágides (the nymphs of the Tejo) to give him the voice to write an epic-poem about the Discoveries.

E vós, Tágides minhas, pois criado
Tendes em mi um novo engheno ardente,
Se sempre em verso humilde celebrado
Foi de mi vosso rio alegremente,
Dai-me agora um som alto e sublimado,
Um estilo grandílico e corrente,
Por que de vossas águas Febo ordene
Que não tenham enveja às de Hipocrene.

[And you, my nymphs of the Tejo, you have created
A new burning ingenuity in me,
If ever your joyful river was celebrated
In humble verse by me,
Now give me a loud and sublime voice,
In a style both grand and flowing,
Because Phoebus orders your waters
To not envy those of Hippocrene.]
(Canto I, verse 4)

Haveráguas’ (‘There are waters’, 1998) by the Chilean artist Roberto Matta has been turned into a large tiled panel with surrealist images of people doing various activities on the sea.

Haveráguas’, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

O Homem Muralha’ (‘The Wall Man’, 2008) by the Angolan-born artist Pedro Pires is a sculpture in iron of five men, all versions of the same man, standing in slightly different poses. Each man is constructed of pixels and the sculptures give rise to questions of identity in the modern world.

‘O Homem Muralha’, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

For anyone who loves modern architecture and modern art, it is worth making the 25-minute journey from the centre of Lisbon to a place totally different from the historic areas, but still with a sense of Lisbon style!

Practicalities

The Parque das Nações is extremely well-served by public transport, so much so that it is possible to use it as a base when visiting Lisbon.
Metro: Red line to Oriente station
Mainline train: Oriente station for the Intercidades and Alfa Pendular lines to Coimbra, Porto, Braga, Guimarães, Viana do Castelo, Évora and Faro; the Renfe sleeper trains to Madrid and Hendaye; and the local lines running between Alverca and Sintra and Azambuja and Alcântara-Terra.
Buses to and from Oriente station: 400, 705, 708, 725, 728, 744, 750, 759, 782 and 794

Lisbon, The bohemian vibe of Lisbon's Lx Factory

The bohemian vibe of Lisbon’s Lx Factory

There is no denying that the Lx Factory in Lisbon’s Alcântara district, next to the iconic 25th April Bridge, has a vibrant hippy-chicness and creative energy about it and as a result it is very popular with both Lisboetas and tourists who want something a little different from the standard shopping centres. The Lx Factory (‘Lx’ is pronounced ‘el sheesh’ and comes from the abbreviation often used for Lisbon) is a 23,000m2 complex of shops, cafés, bars, restaurants and small businesses in a former industrial area of Lisbon, which from the 1840s housed textile manufacturing, food processing and printing companies until it was finally abandoned and fell into disrepair. In 2008 the site was revived as a new creative space with small (but expensive) independent shops, ranging from clothing, jewellery, cosmetics and eyewear to wine, canned fish, books, art and home décor, alongside restaurants selling dishes from around the world, including one located in the original factory canteen of the former printing company. Many of the buildings on the site are as they were when they were abandoned and this gives the place a certain grittiness. The Lx Factory really comes alive after dark when the bars become full of young Lisboetas on a night out and the atmosphere changes completely from that of the daytime. The independent spirit of this place makes it the perfect location for drag events which are run by a group of drag queens at a venue in the complex. There is even a hostel in the complex, the Dorm, which adds to the youthful, communal spirit.

In keeping with the bohemian vibe, the Lx Factory boasts a large variety of urban art throughout the complex (and in the separate, but similarly creative, Village Underground co-working community next door, which has shared workspaces made of double-decker buses and shipping containers). Many pieces are by respected urban artists, such as Bordalo II, Mário Belém, Hugo Makarov, Mariana Dias Coutinho and Derlon, that even people a bit too old to embrace the Lx Factory’s youth-centric nightlife scene can still enjoy in the daytime!

Practicalities

Lx Factory, Rua Rodrigues Faria 103,Lisbon
Tram 15; buses 714, 727, 732, 751 (nearest stop Rua da Junqueira e Alcântara); train from Cais do Sodré or Cascais ( Alcântara-Mar station)

‘Cantemos com alegria’: Portuguese Christmas music, Portuguese music

‘Cantemos com alegria’: Portuguese Christmas music

For me, Christmas isn’t Christmas without the familiar Christmas songs that we all know and love being played throughout December – and there are certainly a lot of songs to choose from in English-speaking countries! Christmas music is also important in the run-up to Christmas in Portugal, but it is true to say that there isn’t a large repertoire of Portuguese Christmas pop songs and those that there are don’t tend to get widely played. English-language Christmas songs, on the other hand, are played endlessly and Michael Bublé’s Christmas album, which has become the soundtrack to Christmas in so many countries, can be heard everywhere you go. However, away from the commercial centres, Portuguese Christmas music can be heard during the Christmas period; ranging from traditional religious songs to Portuguese versions of English-language songs. A small number of Portuguese popular artists have also recorded original Christmas pop songs in Portuguese in an attempt to emulate Bublé et al.

Traditional Portuguese Christmas carols

Traditional carols (Canções de Natal), many of which date from the 18th and 19th centuries, are often sung by adult and children’s choirs during the Christmas period and, like English Christmas carols, tell the story of the birth of Christ. There is an unsubstantiated theory that King João IV of Portugal, who was an accomplished composer, wrote ‘Adeste Fideles’ (‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’), and it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Portuguese hymn’. But music historians have suggested that is is unlikely that he wrote it and the nickname probably comes from the fact that it was performed at the Portuguese embassy in London at the end of the 18th-century (one of the few places in England at that time where Catholic services could be held). The carols below are a small selection of the many you may hear if you go to a Christmas concert in Portugal during the Christmas period. There are several different versions of many of the carols, with slightly different (or even completely different) lyrics as, unlike the English ones which have been standardized in the series of books Carols for Choirs, there is no definitive version of the Portuguese carols.

‘Alegrem-se os Céus e a Terra’ (‘The Heavens and Earth Rejoice’) is a carol dating from the 18th century which is thought to have originated from the Beira Baixa region. The carol tells us to sing with joy that Jesus is born.

[[Chorus] The heavens and earth rejoice / Let us sing with joy / The Holy Infant is born / Son of the Virgin Mary / Enter shepherds, enter / Through this holy doorway / Come and adore the child / Lying on a bed of straw / [Chorus] / In Bethlehem at midnight / Midnight on Christmas Eve / Jesus was born in a manger / Wonderous without equal / [Chorus] / Oh, what a Child so wonderful / Oh, that He is so merciful / Oh, how He is so much like His mother the Virgin / [Chorus]]

[Chorus]
Alegrem-se os céus e a terra
Cantemos com alegria
Já nasceu o Deus Menino
Filho da Virgem Maria

Entrai pastorinhos, entrai
Por este portal sagrado
Vinde adorar o menino
Numas palhinhas deitado

[Chorus]

Em Belém à meia-noite
Meia-noite de Natal
Nasceu Jesus num presépio
Maravilha sem igual

[Chorus]

Ai que Menino tão Belo
Ai que tanto graça tem
Ai que tanto se parece
com a Virgem Sua mãe

[Chorus]

‘Linda Noite de Natal’ (‘Beautiful Christmas Night’) is a traditional Christmas carol originating from the Algarve region. It tells of the journey to Bethlehem and the arrival at the stable where Jesus was born.

[Beautiful Christmas night / Night of great joy / Joseph was walking / Along with Mary most holy / [Chorus] Beautiful night, beautiful night / Beautiful Christmas night / Beautiful night, beautiful night / Beautiful Christmas night / He was walking to Bethlehem / To get there by daylight / But when they arrived there / Everyone was asleep / [Chorus] / They knocked on many doors / But no one helped them / They were given somewhere to stay / Where the blessed ox were sleeping / [Chorus]]

Linda noite de Natal,
Noite de grande alegria.
Caminhava São José
Mais a sagrada Maria.

[Chorus]
Linda noite, linda noite,
Linda noite de Natal.
Linda noite, linda noite,
Linda noite de Natal.

Caminhavam p’ra Belém
Para lá chegar de dia,
Mas quando eles lá chegaram
Já toda a gente dormia.

[Chorus]

Bateram a muitas portas
Mas ninguém lhes acudia,
Foram dar a uma choupana
Onde o boi bento dormia.

[Chorus]

‘O Menino está Dormindo’ (‘The Baby is Sleeping’) is a traditional carol dating from the late-18th or early-19th century and originated in Évora in the Alentejo. The lyrics tell of the Baby Jesus sleeping while the angels sing in celebration of his birth.

[The Infant is sleeping / Naked on a bed of straw. [Repeat] / The angels are singing / ‘For love, a child so poor.’ [Repeat] / The Infant is sleeping / In the arms of the Virgin pure. [Repeat] / The angels are singing / ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ [Repeat] / The Infant is sleeping / In the arms of Joseph. [Repeat] / The angels are singing / ‘Gloria Tibi Domine! [Repeat] / The Infant is sleeping / A sleep of profound love. [Repeat] / The angels are singing / ‘Long live the Saviour of the world!’[Repeat]]

O Menino está dormindo
Nas palhinhas despidinho.         
[Repeat]
Os anjos Lhe estão cantando
‘Por amor, tão pobrezinho.’       
[Repeat]

O Menino está dormindo
Nos braços da Virgem pura.      
[Repeat]
Os anjos Lhe estão cantando
‘Hossana lá na altura!’
[Repeat]

O Menino está dormindo
Nos braços de São José.               
[Repeat]
Os anjos Lhe estão cantando
‘Gloria Tibi Domine!’       [Repeat]

O Menino está dormindo
Um sono de amor profundo.     
[Repeat]
Os anjos Lhe estão cantando
‘Viva o Salvador do mundo!’     
[Repeat]

‘Natal de Elvas’ (‘Elvas Christmas’) dating from the late-19th or early-20th century and originating from Elvas in the Alentejo. The song is about someone who goes to visit the Baby Jesus in the stable and asks why the child is crying.

[I shall go to the manger / And sit in a small corner / To see how the Holy Infant / Was born there so poor. / Oh, my Baby Jesus, / What is up with you, why are you crying? / My mother gave me a kiss, / I cry so that she gives me more. / Our lady is making stockings / With yarn made of light, / The ball of wool is the full moon, / The stockings are for Jesus. / The Infant cries and cries, He cries for good reason: / They made him a short bed / He has his little feet on the ground.]

Eu hei-de ir ao presépio
A assentar-me num cantinho
A ver com’o Deus Menino
Nasceu lá tão pobrezinho.


Ó meu Menino Jesus,
Que tendes, por que chorais?
Deu-me minha mãe um beijo,
Choro por que me dê mais.

Nossa Senhora faz meia
Com linha feita de luz;
O novelo é lua cheia,
As meias são pra Jesus.

O Menino chora, chora,
Chora por muita razão:
Fizeram-lhe a cama curta
Tem os pezinhos no chão.

‘Noite Feliz’ (‘Joyful Night’) is sung to the tune of ‘Silent Night’.

[Joyful night, joyful night / Oh Lord, God of love / A poor boy, born in Bethlehem / Here in the cave, our dear Jesus / Sleep in peace, oh Jesus / Sleep in peace, oh Jesus / Joyful night, joyful night / Oh, Jesus, God of light / How kind is your heart / That you wanted to be born our brother / And to save us all! / And to save us all! / Night of peace, night of love / Everything around is sleeping / Among the stars that are scattered in the sky / Indicating the Baby Jesus / Shines the star of peace / Shines the star of peace]

Noite feliz, noite feliz
Ó Senhor, Deus de amor
Pobrezinho, nasceu em Belém
Eis na lapa, Jesus nosso bem
Dorme em paz, ó Jesus
Dorme em paz, ó Jesus

Noite feliz, noite feliz
Ó Jesus, Deus de luz
Quão amável é teu coração
Que quiseste nascer nosso irmão
E a nós todos salvar!
E a nós todos salvar!

Noite de paz, noite de amor
Tudo dorme em redor
Entre os astros que espargem a luz
Indicando o Menino Jesus
Brilha a estrela da paz
Brilha a estrela da paz

Children’s Christmas songs in Portuguese

The most well-known children’s Christmas song in Portugal is ‘A Todos um Bom Natal’ (‘Merry Christmas to Everyone’). It is an earworm of a song, which gets stuck in the head a bit like ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas’. It was written in 1980 by César Batalha, the musical director of the Santo Amaro de Oeiras Choir, and his wife, Lúcia Carvalho, and every year since then when people hear this song being played from early December they know the Christmas season in Portugal has started.

[[Chorus] A merry Christmas to everyone / A merry Christmas to everyone / Let it be a merry Christmas / For all of us / Let it be a merry Christmas / For all of us / On Christmas morning / We hear the bells ringing / And there is great joy / In the air. / [Chorus] / On this Christmas morning / In every country there are / Many millions of happy / Children / [Chorus] / They leap around the house / Barefoot or in slippers / To look for their presents / So lovely / [Chorus] / Afterwards they dance in a circle / The children join hands / At Christmas everyone feels like / Brothers / [Chorus] / If this were true / For all children / It would be good to hear the bells / Ring / [Chorus]]

[Chorus]
A todos um bom Natal
A todos um bom Natal
Que seja um bom Natal

Para todos nós
Que seja um bom Natal

Para todos nós

No Natal pela manhã
Ouvem-se os sinos tocar
E há uma grande alegria

No ar

[Chorus]

Nesta manhã de Natal
Há em todos os países
Muitos milhões de meninos

Felizes

[Chorus]

Vão aos saltos pela casa
Descalços ou em chinelas
Procurar as suas prendas

Tão belas

[Chorus]

Depois há danças de roda
As crianças dão as mãos
No Natal todos se sentem

Irmãos

[Chorus]

Se isto fosse verdade
Para todos os meninos
Era bom ouvir os sinos

Cantar

[Chorus]

Most other children’s Christmas songs are Portuguese translations or adaptations of well-known English-language Christmas songs, such as ‘A Rena Rodolfo’ (‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’), ‘Pinheirinho de Natal’ (‘O Christmas Tree’), ‘O Pequeno Tambor’ (‘Little Drummer Boy’) and ‘Toca o Sino Pequenino’ (‘Ring the Little Bell’) which is sung to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’, but rather than singing a translated version of the English lyrics, one version of the song (there are several versions) has been rewritten with a more religious theme where the ‘jingle bells’ on the ‘one-horse open sleigh’ are replaced with a bell being rung in Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

[It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas / Let’s go without delay / To worship the Infant / Who was born today. / It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas / Let’s go without delay / To worship the Infant / Who was born today. / Tonight is beautiful / Amidst it and the sky / We are going to the chapel / Happily to pray. / And in ringing the bell / The little bell / The Holy Infant has come / To save us / Ring the little bell / The bell of Bethlehem / The Holy Infant is born / of the Virgin Mary. / Ring the little bell / The bell of Bethlehem / The Holy Infant is born / of the Virgin Mary. / Tonight is beautiful / Amidst it and the sky / We are going to the chapel / Happily to pray. / And in ringing the bell / The little bell / The Holy Infant has come / To save us / It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas / Let’s go without delay / To worship the Infant / Who was born today. / It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas / Let’s go without delay / To worship the Infant / Who was born today.]

É Natal, é Natal
Vamos sem demora
Adorar o Menino
que nasceu agora.

É Natal, é Natal
Vamos sem demora
Adorar o Menino
que nasceu agora.

Esta noite é bela
Entre o céu e ela
Vamos à capela
Felizes rezar.

E ao tocar o sino
Sino pequenino
Vem o Deus Menino
Para nos salvar.

Toca o sino pequenino
Sino de Belém
Já nasceu o Deus Menino
Que a senhora tem.
Toca o sino pequenino
Sino de Belém
Já nasceu o Deus Menino
Que a senhora tem.

Esta noite é bela
Entre o céu e ela
Vamos à capela
Felizes rezar.

E ao tocar o sino
Sino pequenino
Vem o Deus Menino
Para nos salvar.

É Natal, é Natal
Vamos sem demora
Adorar o Menino
que nasceu agora.

É Natal, é Natal
Vamos sem demora
Adorar o Menino
que nasceu agora.

Portuguese Christmas pop songs

There aren’t many Portuguese Christmas pop songs, but a few Portuguese musicians have attempted to make their mark on the Christmas single market. In an article in the online student newspaper ComUM, Bruna Sousa lists 12 Christmas pop songs written and performed by Portuguese artists. I have summarised Bruna’s article in English, but please click on the link to see the full article and to view videos of each song.

‘É Natal’ (‘It’s Christmas’, 1968), sung by the fado singer Fernando Farinha, describes a Portuguese Christmas which combines the secular and the religious.
‘Natal dos Simples’ (‘Christmas of the Humble’, 1968) by José Afonso tells of how the impoverished people of Beira sang songs (Janeiras) to the wealthy in return for food.
‘Um pedido de Natal’ (‘A Christmas Wish’, 1996) by José Malhoa (along with other Portuguese singers such as Tony Carreira, Ágata, Luís Filipe Reis and Romana) is about people who have to be apart from each other at Christmas.
In ‘Presépio de Lata’ (‘Tin Nativity Scene’, 1998) the singer Rui Veloso offers a cynical view of the Christmas traditions, describing a tin Nativity scene with aluminium stars and cardboard angels and saying that Jesus was brought here out of a false faith.
‘Nesta Noite Branca’ (‘On This White Night’, 1999) by Anjos e Susana. This is one of the first Portuguese Christmas songs that is inspired by the commercial Christmas songs sung in English (it is reminiscent of ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham!) and is about being with a loved one rather than describing traditional Portuguese Christmases.
‘Carta Para o Pai Natal’ (‘Letter to Father Christmas’, 2005) by the rapper Boss AC, is a letter to Father Christmas asking for him to address all the injustices in the world.
‘Queixa ao Pai Natal’ (‘Complaint to Father Christmas’, 2009) by Os Azeitonas, refers to how children complain about Father Christmas when he does not give them the present they want, even though they don’t believe in him.
‘Quando Chega o Natal’ (‘When Christmas Comes’, 2011) by the group Deolinda is a cynical comment on the hypocrisy of the Christmas spirit and how everyone is expected to be nice to each other on that one day, despite ignoring them for the rest of the year.
‘O Teu Natal’ (‘Your Christmas’, 2013) by Miguel Ângelo is a love song set around Christmas.
In ‘Natal Mais Uma Vez’ (‘Christmas Once More’, 2014) Luísa Sobral sings about the impatience children feel on Christmas Eve for Christmas Day to come and when it is over they want it to be Christmas Day once more.
‘Natal na Minha Cidade’ (‘Christmas in My City’, 2016) by Os Boca do Povo, accompanied by a choir of children, is about the Christmas traditions of Braga, including toasting the season with a glass of muscatel and a banana.
‘Magia do Natal’ (‘Magic of Christmas’, 2018) is a Christmas song performed by a compilation of artists put together by the Klasszik label (including Calema, Anselmo Ralph, Anjos, Nelson Freitas and Bárbara Bandeira). The song tells us to share love with those who are alone.

Despite the variety of these Portuguese Christmas musical offerings, I think Michael Bublé’s ‘king of the Christmas song’ crown is safe and I am certain Portuguese restaurants, supermarkets and Christmas fairs will continue to play his Christmas album throughout December.

Food and drink, Vinho Verde: young, crisp wine from the Minho

Vinho Verde: young, crisp wine from the Minho

Vinho Verde is a very young, crisp wine that is produced in the Minho region. Its name translates to mean ‘young wine’, referring to the fact that it should be drunk soon after it has been bottled (and is not related to its colour, despite ‘verde’ meaning ‘green’). The Vinho Verde region, which lies between the Spanish border and the Douro Valley in the north-western corner of Portugal, was demarcated in 1908 and only permitted grapes are allowed to be used in wines that carry the Vinho Verde DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada (Controlled Denomination of Origin)) on the label, along with the seal of guarantee and an official number.

While the majority of Vinho Verde drunk outside of Portugal is white, within Portugal it is also possible to buy rosé and red Vinho Verde. The flavour of wines from the Vinho Verde region embody the cold, damp climate and granitic soil in which the vines grow, often draped over pergola trellises or even trees to keep them off the ground to prevent the grapes from rotting. The white Vinho Verdes have a characteristic light-bodied acidity with fruity and floral notes and, at around only 10% alcohol, it is the perfect drink on a hot day. The main grape varieties used in white Vinho Verdes are Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Loureiro and Trajadura, usually in blends, but some wine producers are creating single-varietal Vinho Verdes with the more-complex Alvarhino and Loureiro grapes. The rosés have a freshness with flavours of strawberries, raspberries and cherries from the Espadeiro and Padeiro grapes, while the reds, made with Amaral, Borraçal and Vinhão grapes, are an acquired taste with high tannins, a deep-red colour and, let’s not beat around the bush, a sharp taste, but are still widely drunk in northern Portugal. Red Vinho Verde is often served from a cask in a traditional small terracotta or ceramic drinking bowl rather than in a wine glass.

Another characteristic of Vinho Verde is its slight fizziness, although not enough fizz to call it a sparkling wine. In the past the fizziness was a result of malolactic fermentation (in which malic acid converts to lactic acid and during this process releases carbon dioxide), but this fermentation resulted in an unappealing cloudiness which meant the wine had to be sold in an opaque container. Nowadays, producers of Vinho Verde add the carbon dioxide artificially. It is the combination of this slight sparkle combined with the light fresh acidity that makes this a perfect wine to drink on its own on a summer’s day or as an accompaniment to white meat, fish, seafood and salads.

Pictured wines (prices as of 2020):
Casal Garcia, Quinta da Aveleda, Vinho Verde DOC (blend of Trajadura, Loureiro, Arinto and Azal), NV, €4.55
Leira do Canhoto, Quinta de Melgaço, Vinho Verde DOC (blend of Alvarinho, Loureiro and Arinto), 2014, €3.35

Food and drink, In praise of the Touriga Nacional grape: the (not so) secret ingredient in Portuguese red wine

In praise of the Touriga Nacional grape: the (not so) secret ingredient in Portuguese red wine

Until recently it is probably fair to say that Portuguese wines weren’t great. Although they were enjoyed by the Portuguese, they were unpalatable to the rest of the world. Up to the mid-1980s (when Portugal joined the European Union) wines were solely produced by co-operatives (set up during the years of the dictatorship), where traditional mindsets and working methods didn’t allow the excellent varieties of grape that grow throughout the country to be used to their full potential. In recent years small vineyards and wine producing companies have turned this around by embracing new methods and technology, combined with an understanding of blending grape varieties to create wines of a quality that can compete with those of other wine-producing countries. The success of the Portuguese red wine blends is down to one grape variety in particular, the Touriga Nacional. This is the grape used to produce the best ports and can be seen growing along the length of the Douro Valley.

River Douro

Although this variety has been grown in Portugal for centuries (and has even made its way to Brazil, most probably brought over by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century, where it is used in their wine production), its importance was only recognised 30 or so years ago. It had almost died out by the 1970s due to low yields and disease, but a decade later research was done by some of the top port houses to determine which grape varieties make the best port and, of the ones they short-listed, Touriga Nacional was named the best. As a result of this research, a hardy clone was produced and Touriga Nacional is now grown in every wine-making region of Portugal, from the Douro to the Algarve. Portuguese red wines are made up of blends of grape varieties such as Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz/Aragonez (better known as Tempranillo), Touriga Franca, Trincadeira and Jaen, but the addition of Touriga Nacional (a dark-skinned grape rich in tannins, which on its own can be a bit over-powering) gives the wine its structure with intense aromas, flavours of blackcurrant and other dark fruit and spices, with a hint of liquorice and bergamot, and a capacity for ageing well. Even a small percentage of this grape (such as the 10% Touriga Nacional blended with 60% Tinta Roriz and 30% Touriga Franca in Casca Wines’ Bote (Douro)) can turn a mediocre blend into a full-bodied wine of international quality, so it is not surprising that in the wine industry Touriga Nacional is often referred to as Portugal’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon. Don’t be put off by the low prices (around €4 a bottle in supermarkets) which belie the quality; good wine is, thankfully, still relatively cheap in Portugal.

Pictured wines (prices as of 2020):
Adega de Vila Real (Douro – blend of Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional), 2018, €3.14
Vale do Viso (Douro – blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz), 2016, €3.94
Cartuxa Vinea (Alentejo – blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional and Syrah), 2017, €3.05
Bote (Douro – blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional), 2016, €3.85
Cabeça d’Velho (Dão – blend of Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Touriga Nacional), 2015, €2.55

Art, Art on the Metro 5: Jardim Zoológico, Lisbon

Art on the Metro 5: Jardim Zoológico

When the Jardim Zoológico Metro station in Lisbon was expanded in 1995, the Portuguese artist Júlio Resende (1917-2011) was invited to decorate the walls of the platforms. He was inspired by the nearby Lisbon Zoo (Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa) to create large-scale hand-painted murals on the glazed tiles, depicting exotic animals and plants in tones of blue, green and yellow, so that the traveller is immersed in a lush Expressionist-style tropical forest.

Food and drink, Understanding the 'couvert': a Portuguese take on the bread and olives course

Understanding the ‘couvert’: a Portuguese take on the bread and olives course

The word Couvert on Portuguese menus can be a bit misleading to foreign tourists, as it isn’t the typical fixed-fee cover charge which is added to the bill in some other countries. The term couvert in Portugal is used to describe the small dishes that are served as appetisers before the meal. Common appetisers include: pão (bread), manteiga (butter), manteiga de ervas (herb butter), manteiga com alho (garlic butter), patê de sardinha (sardine pâté), patê de atum (tuna pâté), azeitonas (olives), queijo (cheese), maionese de delícias do mar (mayonnaise with seafood), cenouras à Algarvia (Algarvian-style carrots), grão de bico or feijão-frade com bacalhau (chickpeas or black-eyed peas with cod), among many others.

In most Portuguese restaurants appetisers are brought to your table as soon as you have sat down, but there is no obligation to eat them. In Portugal you only pay for what you eat, so if you don’t eat anything from the selection you won’t be charged. The couvert should be listed on the menu, so if you are concerned about how much it is going to cost you can ask to see the menu before you decide to accept it, however, they aren’t usually very expensive. Some restaurants charge per person for a selection of appetisers, for example, for €2 per person you may get a variety of bread rolls, herb butter, garlic butter, olives and tuna pâté. Other restaurants charge per item, for example, bread (€1), olives (€1.50), tuna pâté (€2.50), cheese (€3), so you can just try the ones you want. One thing that tourists who haven’t been to Portugal before often complain about is the fact that the food is presented as if it is free and they feel ripped off when they see it included on the bill, but it is not a tourist scam, it is just a cultural difference. The presentation of appetisers is standard practice in restaurants throughout Portugal, with the intention that diners have something to nibble on while looking at the menu and waiting for their food. It is perfectly acceptable to ask the waiter/waitress to take it away if you don’t want it, or just ask him/her to leave certain items, such as the bread and olives. The quality of the appetisers can vary from restaurant to restaurant; in some you may get pre-packaged sardine pâté, whereas in others it may be freshly made in the restaurant. You may also get offered regional dishes that you wouldn’t normally get to try and, as the Portuguese proverb goes, ‘Quem não arrisca, não petisca’ (‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ or, literally, ‘He who doesn’t take a risk, doesn’t get to have a little snack’!).

Bom apetite!

Art, Art on the Metro 4: Martim Moniz, Lisbon

Art on the Metro 4: Martim Moniz

The Siege of Lisbon (also known as the Conquest of Lisbon), which took place in 1147, is a significant event in Portuguese history. That year the newly crowned King Afonso I of Portugal formed an army made up of Crusaders from Northern Europe to overthrow the Moorish presence in Lisbon, promising them the spoil. Despite the attacks on St George’s castle, which enclosed the Moorish city, the Moors held King Afonso’s army off for four months, but eventually the Christian army gained entry, overpowering the Moors, and then going on to ransack the city and murder anyone who got in their way. There is a legend that a knight called Martim Moniz, who was fighting in King Afonso’s army, lay down in the doorway so that the Moors couldn’t shut it, thus allowing the Christian army to enter. Despite being badly injured, the legend goes on to say that he got up and continued fighting until he finally died of his injuries. He is considered a hero in Lisbon and there is a small bust of him on a wall in the castle and he even has a square and the adjacent Metro station named after him in Lisbon.

In the Metro station the story of the Siege of Lisbon is told on the walls of the platforms through stylised minimalist cartoon-like characters created in marble by the sculptor José João Brito (b.1941) in 1997. Characters include two horses; the two bishops, D. João Peculiar (who successfully negotiated with the King of León and Castile for Portuguese independence in 1143) and D. Pedro Pitões (who persuaded the Crusaders to join King Afonso I in his attack on Lisbon); Crusaders, represented by Hervey de Glanvill (the leader of the Crusaders) and Simon of Dover (the leader of the Anglo-Norman forces); D. Afonso Henriques (King Afonso I of Portugal); and, of course, Martim Moniz, shown throwing himself between the doors.

Art, Art on the Metro 3: Restauradores, Lisbon

Art on the Metro 3: Restauradores

As travellers leave Restauradores Metro station at the Avenida da Liberdade exit they come face-to-face with a large colourful tiled mural by the Brazilian artist Luiz Ventura (b. 1930) called ‘Brasil-Portugal: 500 anos – A Chegança’ (which roughly translates to ‘Brazil-Portugal: 500 years – The Historical Folk Play’). It was completed in 1994 and added to the station to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Pedro Álvares Cabral’s discovery of Brazil in 1500. It is a depiction of a symbolic reenactment of the Portuguese explorers landing in Brazil and comments on the impact of the Age of Discovery. The Portuguese colonialists are shown aboard a caravel wearing expensive clothes and holding the navigational tools associated with the 15th– and 16th-century explorations, including a map, a compass and an armillary sphere, as well as one holding a book and pen and another, a soldier, holding a spear. They represent science, culture and military power. Also on board the caravel is a man in religious robes holding an open Bible and looking up to Heaven, representing the Catholic religion that the Portuguese brought to Brazil. Beside him is an angel and in front of her is a devil, symbolizing good and evil. In front of the devil is a chest containing chains and restraints, which disturbingly reminds us of the slave trade. On the left-hand side of the mural, outside of the caravel, are exotic fruits, flowers, plants, a bird, decorative pots and a mask, all representing the differences between the newly discovered Brazil and the old world Portugal. In the background is a caravel sailing towards the Brazilian coast, about to bring major changes to the indigenous societies. Look closely and you will see a ghostly figure on the far left of the group of Portuguese explorers, giving rise to a sense of uneasiness and foreboding.

Art, Art on the Metro 2: Cais do Sodré, Lisbon

Art on the Metro 2: Cais do Sodré

Travellers using the Metro station at Cais do Sodré are greeted by a series of floor-to-ceiling-high rabbits painted in blue on the white tiles. On one wall the rabbits are running towards the trains and on the other they are running towards the exit. The rabbits, all wearing a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch, are based on the John Tenniel illustration of the White Rabbit character from the children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865), who famously runs down the rabbit hole saying, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ The paintings were done by Pedro Morais (1944-2018) in 1998 when the Metro station first opened, but they were based on sketches that the Surrealist painter António Dacosta (1914-1990) had done for the station before he died. The White Rabbit seems very a fitting image for a busy commuter station, where, like Alice, we follow him down the rabbit hole into the bowels of the station!