Monday, 31 December 2018

Foxcote House, Ilmington, Warwickshire

A Grade II-listed early-eighteenth century mansion, Foxcote House is now owned by Victoria's Secret founder American billionaire Les Wexner. Although the owner is reputed to value his privacy, a public footpath runs close to this grand house on the edge of the Cotswolds.

Lunch at the Ebrington Arms, Ebrington, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire

An unspoilt Cotswolds pub, the Ebrington Arms serves decent food at punchy prices in convivial surroundings. The menu can be aspirational (duck breast, pommes anna, carrot & star anise puree & Russian kale for £24), but there are also some cheaper staples, such as fish and chips with mushy peas (£15), and beef burger and chips (£17). The portions are fairly generous and the food is hearty fare with plenty of flavour. There are also some smooth ales, such as Yubby, on draught. The service is pretty attentive and chirpy, but some of the rooms can get smoky when the open fires are going strong. 7/10

Friday, 30 November 2018

I'm Not Running, The National Theatre, the Southbank, Central London

Images from the National Theatre web site

For a contemporary play about the tense and multi-layered world of British politics, I'm Not Running is too slow, laid back, disjointed and detached from real world events, which right now are more absorbing and profound than the fictional events covered in David Hare's new play. His focus on the NHS and healthcare seems narrow and dated, given this play was written in the era of Brexit, nationalism, Trump and Corbyn. Even the staff shortages in the NHS, which are being exacerbated by Brexit, don't warrant a mention, while the collapse of the political centre, the civil war in the Tory Party and the battle for the soul of the Labour Party are also ignored. In an apt metaphor for the script, the set, which is basically two revolving walls and some furniture, fails to fill the expansive stage of the Lyttelton Theatre.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

City Hall, Praça do Municipio, Lisbon

Lisbon's neoclassical City Hall was built in the middle of the nineteenth century, after a fire destroyed its predecessor, according to It is the most striking building in a beautifully-tiled square, which is also adorned by a spiral column built from a single block of stone in the eighteenth century, symbolising the enforcement of justice.  

Basílica da Estrela, Praça da Estrela, Lisbon

On the route of Lisbon's infamous tourist Tram 28, the Basílica da Estrela is an elegant marble eighteenth century church built by Queen Mary I of Portugal after she gave birth to an heir.

Travelling in Lisbon's Old Trams

Getting a ride on one of Lisbon's ancient wooden trams, which date from the 1930s, is far from easy. There isn't much space inside the atmospheric Remodelado' trams, which rattle around the city's streets and there are lots of tourists wanting to squeeze in.  Route 28 is particularly popular with both travellers and pickpockets. If you are desperate, take one of the trams heading out west into some of the less scenic parts of the city. You can use your day pass, which costs about 6.5 euros, on the trams, buses and metros.

Guards outside the Presidência da República, Palácio de Belém, Lisbon

Guards stand outside the official residence of the President of Portugal.  Renovated in the late 1800s it was turned into the official home of the President in 1911, according to Lisbonlux. On site are gardens and a museum, as well as the palace itself.

Belém, Lisbon

With several fine parks, gardens and major historical sites, the suburb of Belém should be on any Lisbon itinerary. Although a dual carriageway and a train line has cut the town centre off from the riverfront,  Belém is a pleasant place to wander and enjoy a beer of a coffee in the sunshine.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Belem, Lisbon

An UNESCO World Heritage Site,  the sixteenth century Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is both vast and impressively ornate, with intricate carvings around its enormous main gateway and its domed bell tower. Built during the Age of Discovery, the monastery commemorated Vasco da Gama's discovery of the maritime route to India. Today, it is a magnet for tourists. In the morning, the queue to see the apparently spectacular interior can be several hundred-strong, but it seems to subside around lunchtime.  

Pão Pão Queijo Queijo, R. de Belém, Lisbon

Serving very tasty food at very tasty prices,  Pão Pão Queijo Queijo can get mobbed.  You begin by ordering from a cashier in the cramped reception space before queuing to get your food from the friendly fellas working behind the counter. You can get a massive sandwich or salad, French fries and a drink (including a beer) for six or seven euros. There is an enormous selection and the ingredients are pretty decent. If you are lucky, you might even get a seat at one of the pavement tables in the sunshine, from where you'll have a view of the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery. Otherwise, you'll need to sit upstairs. 8/10

Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Belém, Lisbon

 Marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, this dramatic monument evokes the stern of a ship heading out to sea. As well as Henry himself, the stone vessel carries statues of other prominent figures from the Age of Discovery - the sixteenth century heyday of Portuguese naval power. There is an enticing viewing terrace at the top of the monument, but you will need to follow the crowds flowing through the subway underneath the dual carriageway and railway line to get to the ticket office. 

Torre de Belém, Lisbon

Reminiscent of a Game of Thrones set, the Torre de Belém is a charismatic fortress standing in the Tagus Estuary, near the point where it flows into the Atlantic. Built in 1515, the nautical tower is adorned with quirky carvings of ropes, a rhino and shields. To get inside, which can take some time, tourists queue on a wooden jetty. Unfortunately, from some angles, the view of the tower is marred by an industrial plant on the other side of the river.

Miradouro Sophia de Mello, Calçada da Graça, Lisbon

The terrace of Miradouro Sophia de Mello offers broad views over Lisbon, taking in the Castelo de S. Jorge, the suspension bridge, Ponte 25 de Abril, and the pastel colours of the old city. Although it is a stiff climb up to the viewpoint and it is popular with selfie-seeking tourists, this is a fine spot to sip a beer in the shadow of Igreja e Convento da Graça and soak up Lisbon's history.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Maria Catita, Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, Lisbon

It can be tricky to get a table at Maria Catita, a plain, but popular Lisbon restaurant serving decent local cuisine.  The atmosphere is buzzy and the service is cheerful, but slow, even by Lisbon's standards. Still, the food is generally worth waiting for. The shellfish stew (two portions for 46 euros), served in a copper pot, is brimming with expertly-cooked fresh seafood, while the steak and chips (16.5 euros) is generous for the price. But the fried cod loin, fried potatoes, onion and peppers (16.90 euros) isn't quite as exciting. If you are patient, Maria Catita makes for a fine meal out. 8/10

Early Evening, Miradouro de Santa Luzia, Lisbon

The Igreja de Santo Estêvão towers over Lisbon's Alfama district

Igreja do Menino Deus, Calçada do Menino de Deus, Lisbon

The forbidding Baroque facade of Igreja do Menino Deus, an early eighteenth century church that survived the 1755 earthquake.

Rua São Tomé, Lisbon

The ancient Alfarma district of Lisbon is maze of hilly, cobbled streets, traversed by tramlines

History of Lisbon Comic Strip, Arch of Rua Norberto de Araujo, Lisbon

Next to a public toilet hidden inside an archway, this comic mural tells the history of Lisbon through the centuries. Painted by Nuno Saraiva, this charming piece of public art can be reached via the Rua Norberto De Araujo stairway.

Tram-travel Lisbon Style

One of Lisbon's elderly trams winds its way down cobbled Rua do Limoeiro

Rua da Vitória, Lisbon

 One of the many atmospheric streets in Lisbon's Baixa district, Rua da Vitória is home to the curvaceous Igreja de São Nicolau, which is adorned by iron railings and extensive tiling.

Teatro Eden, Praca dos Restauradores, Lisbon

An eye-catching art deco building, the Teatro Eden was built in 1931. Once a cinema, it nows houses a hotel.

Rossio Station, Praca dos Restauradores, Lisbon

Although it is only connected to a handful of suburban rail lines, Rossio Station's romantic nineteenth century Neo-Manueline  architecture has turned it into a Lisbon landmark.  As the gateway to the tourist trap of Sintra, its elegant ticket hall can be inundated with people trying to access the machines or the booths. Best to get there early and avoid the mid morning scramble.

Pavilhão Carlos Lopes, Edward VII Park in Lisbon

Built in 1929 to host sporting and cultural events, this ostentatious building was renamed after the Portuguese athlete Carlos Lopes, who won the Los Angeles Olympics marathon in 1984, setting a new Olympic record. Recently renovated, it now looks brand, spanking new.  The striking blue tiled sections depict scenes from Portugal’s history, and the two large sculptures by the entrance represent Art and Science, according to Lisbon Lux

Jardim Amália Rodrigues, Alameda Cardeal Cerejeira, Lisbon

On the brow of a hill overlooking downtown Lisbon, the Jardim Amália Rodrigues is one of the best places from which to survey the wider city. It also overlooks the Palacete Henrique Mendonça, a grand century-old mansion just a hundred yards to the north.

Parque Eduardo VII do Reino Unido, Lisbon

It is a long haul up the wide tiled ramps to the top of the Parque Eduardo VII, but the sweeping view down the lush green slope, across the box hedges, into the city and to the river Tagus beyond is worth the effort.  From here, you can also admire an enormous Portuguese flag, while watching the steady stream of TAP planes descending towards the city's airport. 

Sintra, Portgual

Save Sintra for a sunny day and get there early, very early. Even on wet days with the verdant hills and historic palaces shrouded in mist, the historic town can be packed with tourists. The UNESCO World Heritage site is home to some extraordinary and fanciful architecture, but the many transport bottlenecks means it can feel like a overcrowded tourist trap 

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Calçada da Graça, Lisbon

Lined by pastel-coloured houses with wrought-iron railings, Calçada da Graça leads steeply up to a cobbled square with a terrace overlooking much of Lisbon.

Igreja e Convento da Graça, Lisbon

Rebuilt in Baroque style following the 1755 earthquake, the cream-hued monastery and church of Our Lady of Grace occupies one of the highest points in Lisbon. Inside, the church is extraordinarily ornate, while the Augustin monastery opens out on to some atmospheric, if disheveled, cloisters. You'll also find some beautifully tiled walls and floors, as well as a model of the procession through Graça on the second Sunday of Lent. Immediately outside the church is a large cobblestone terrace with cafe tables clustered around a bronze sculpture overlooking the city's rooftops.

Miradouro do Chão do Loureiro, Lisbon

You can ride an elevator up to this concrete-laden vantage point, but the steps via a graffiti-splattered back alley are the more rewarding route. From here you get commanding views across Lisbon's centre and the Tagus on its way out to the Atlantic.

Casa dos Bicos, Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, Lisbon

Dating back to the early sixteenth century, the Casa dos Bicos' facade is covered in 1,000 diamond-shaped stones. Once the home of the viceroy of Portuguese India, it is now part of the Lisbon Museum and the headquarters of the José Saramago Foundation, celebrating the Portuguese writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Praça do Comércio, Lisbon

Surely one of the largest squares in Europe, the  Praça do Comércio is lined by grand eighteenth century arcades on three sides and the riverfront on the fourth.  Although it lacks the intricate patterned cobbles that are a hallmark of historic Lisbon, the square's grandeur and harmonious architecture more than compensates. The imposing Arco da Rua Augusta and the handsome statue of Dom José I on horseback add theatre and charisma.

The Time Out Market, Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon

Since 2014, this charismatic late nineteenth century market hall has been run by the publisher Time Out and branded accordingly. It is supposed to offer the best of Lisbon's culinary delights. Inside are scores of stalls selling a wide variety of food and drink, which can be consumed in the communal dining areas or on the terraces that line some of the outlets. But the omniscient black and white branding means some of the diversity and colour of an indoor food market has been lost. Moreover, the Mercado da Ribeira can be crowded and you may prefer to eat your purchases on a bench outside. Still, the building retains many of its handsome period features - make sure you head upstairs for the best vantage point and to appreciate the well-preserved tiling.  And the Time Out format certainly seems to have created quite a buzz amongst both locals and tourists.

Praça Luís de Camões, Chiado, Lisbon

An attractive and compact square between Chiado and Bairro Alto, Praça Luís de Camões celebrates Luis de Camões with a monumental statue standing on a pedestal.  The 16th-century epic poet towers above statues of several other literary figures. Depicting sailing ships, anchors and the like, the square's decorative black and white tiling is a delight. Nearby there are two Baroque churches: Loreto (pictured below) and Encarnação.

The Back Streets of Bairro Alto, Lisbon

Although the historic ambiance of Bairro Alto is diluted somewhat by the extensive graffiti, this Bohemian neighbourhood's narrow sloping cobbled streets have plenty of character. Adorned by well-preserved wall tiles, period lamps and wrought iron balconies, many of the terraced houses are home to small bars and eateries.

Embaixada Shopping Mall, Praça do Príncipe Real, Lisbon

Housed in the charismatic and airy Ribeiro da Cunha Palace, Embaixada is an eclectic collection of arty boutique shops in the happening neighbourhood of Príncipe Real. Leading up from the cafe on the ground floor, the palace has an impressive staircase and atrium adorned with opulent sculptures and paintings.

Botanical Gardens of Lisbon

Built on a steep hillside near the heart of Lisbon, the nineteenth century Botanical Gardens are a calm and lush oasis of exotic greenery featuring thousands of subtropical species. Although the gardens are a tad shabby and overgrown, there are many quirky corners, the hard landscaping is tasteful and the atmosphere peaceful. If you have any interest in botany, a visit is well worth the modest entrance fee.

Ascensor da Glória, Lisbon

Now about 130 years old, the graffiti-splattered Ascensor da Glória carries hordes of people up the steep hill from central Lisbon to the picturesque Bairro Alto neighbourhood. Something of a tourist trap, the funicular is as busy as the city's antique trams.

Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, Lisbon

Although parts of it have been cordoned off for repair work, this two-tier garden and terrace still provides absorbing panoramic views across the heart of Lisbon and the river beyond. Moreover, the exquisite floor tiles, the wrought iron railings and the stone fountains imbue Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara with a timeless atmosphere that will make you want to linger.

Rua da Misericórdia and Largo Trindade Coelho, Lisbon

One of the many atmospheric squares that give Lisbon its distinctive character,  Largo Trindade Coelho has a quirky statue of a ticket conductor, shady trees and a fine view of the trams ambling their way up the handsome Rua da Misericórdia.

Calçada do Duque, Lisbon

Winding its way up from behind Rossio Station to Bairro Alto,  Calçada do Duque is a series of steep stone staircases lined with compact cafes-bars, restaurants and shops. When you pause for a rest, you can admire the view of the castle and the colourful houses below, framed by the elegant period buildings that tumble down the hillside. There are a lot of steps, but if you want to get some exercise, this is the most scenic route to Bairro Alto from the centre of Lisbon.

Rua da Conceição, Lisbon

One of Lisbon's major thoroughfares, Rua da Conceição oozes history. Lined with striking period buildings and old-school shops, this distinctive and atmospheric street is on the route of the elderly tram network.

Banco Totta & Açores, Lisbon

Dating from the dawn of the twentieth century, the headquarters of Banco Totta & Açores is an imposingly ornate building that strikes a rare balance between solidity and sophistication. 

Rua Augusta, Lisbon

A pedestrianised shopping drag, Rua Augusta is lined with elegant cream nineteenth century buildings and has a intricately-cobbled surface, but the patterns are partially obscured by the many pavement cafes and restaurants. It connects Praça do Rossio and Praça do Comércio, two of Lisbon's grandest squares.

Praça da Figueira, Lisbon

A multi-purpose, but nondescript, square in the heart of Lisbon, Praça da Figueira serves as an outdoor food and drinks market, a transport hub and a modest tourist attraction thanks to its grand statue of King John I on horseback and several period four-storey buildings. This is a good spot to sample Portuguese cheeses and cold meats, washed down by a beer or glass of wine.

Praça do Rossio, Lisbon

With its rippling mosaic cobbles, large circular fountain, and towering column topped by a statue of Pedro IV, the solider king, Praça do Rossio is a striking reminder of Lisbon's grandiose history. A popular meeting point and the scene of many a protest and execution, the square is also home to the national theatre, two of Lisbon's best-known cafes and a distinctive Neo-Manueline railway station, which serves the Sintra region.

Stroll up to Castelo de S. Jorge, Lisbon

You can reach Lisbon's sprawling hilltop Mooorish castle by following Largo do Chão do Loureiro and then Costo Do Castelo. This atmospheric route will take you up some steep steps and through gnarled cobbled streets lined with appealing tiled cafes. The plentiful graffiti is a ready reminder that Lisbon is an edgy city, rather than dolled-up museum for tourists. But once you pass through the grand archway near the top of Costo Do Castelo, you'll need to pay to enter the 11th century fortress.

Miradouro de Santa Luzia, Lisbon

With its classical pillars, bourgenvilla, cobble-stones and ornate tiles, this terrace is a romantic spot from which to survey one of Lisbon's oldest quarters, the cruise liners in the docks and the distant Vasco da Gama Bridge, a 17km long crossing of the Targus.

Miradouro das Portas do Sol Observation Deck, Lisbon

Probably one of the most photographed panoramas in Lisbon, the view from the Miradouro das Portas do Sol Observation Deck takes in the São Vicente de Fora Monastery, overlooking the old district of Alfama, the Igreja de Santo Estêvão and the Tagus River. With a harmonious mix of pastel-hued period buildings with  red-tiled roofs tumbling down to the waterfront, Alfama is one of the best-preserved parts of the Portuguese capital. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Taberna do Vilarinho, Rua das Canastras, Lisbon

A bohemian establishment serving earthy Portuguese food and cheap wine by the carafe, Taberna do Vilarinho is a refreshingly friendly and unassuming place to eat in a touristy part of Lisbon.

Velho Macedo, R. da Madalena, Lisbon

A traditional Portuguese establishment that makes few concessions to tourists, Velho Macedo is a good place to soak up an authentic Lisbon experience. With white table cloths, traditional crockery and wall-mounted wooden wine racks, the interior is old-school. The serious-minded waiting staff appear to speak little English and offer even less guidance, but you can't go far wrong with the seafood, which is tasty and good value. A very soft, creamy and smelly local cheese (called Azeitão) arrives unbidden, while you are waiting for the dishes you ordered. At 5.5 euros for a hefty and delicious helping, it is more than welcome. The only cause for complaint is the pricey bottled water, which seems to cost more than the beer. 7/10