Monthly Archives: April 2018

Portugal, Lisbon – National Museum of Ancient Art and the Time Out Food Market

I continued my long wander by bus and foot along the waterfront and moved from the modern art of the LX Factory to the decidedly old art at the National Museum of Ancient Art which features both Portuguese artists and others from Europe. This is a nice size place to visit with a lovely terrace overlooking the “golden gate bridge’ look alike where you can sip a decent cup of coffee.

As always I enjoy portraits and these were my favourites. I love the bloke at the bottom left – might have been a Brueghel?

The museum also has arts and crafts and tile work and I would buy both those vases now even though they were designed a few hundred years ago – so contemporary looking.

Then on, past some lively street art, to the Time Out Food Market (yes that Time Out). This is a venture that the Time Out staff set up and which I believe they are going to do in other locales too. It is a hanger of a space which is essentially a very high end food court highlighting (mostly) Portuguese food. There is everything from fish tartare, to suckling pig to ice cream. At the far end are five stands hosted by top Michelin starred chefs where you can taste some of their dishes. I decided that Miguel Lafan’s pan fried fois gras plus a mix of beets and raspberries would be my choice. Not half bad. Definitely worth a visit if you are in Lisbon.

Portugal, Lisbon – the LX Factory

Had another excellent day in Lisbon at various venues along the waterfront. First stop the LX Factory – an area tucked under the bridge that looks like the Golden Gate and which reminded me of DUMBO in Brooklyn. It has street art, restaurants, bars, shops (most only selling things are ate “green” and good vibe. Nice stop for an hour or so and I can only see it getting better and better.

And there is a wonderful place that only sells one kind of chocolate cake and coffee – called Landeau- I had it for lunch!

Portugal – Fatima, Nazaré, Batalha, Óbidos

Great day trip to all of the above. Starting with the very modern shrine in Fatima built when three children claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary and then believed more later on by what appears to have been a total eclipse. The original chapel is tiny so they have built a massive church and shrine in modern style to cater for all the visitors who come to pray or do a penance. I found people walking on their knees from one end to the other a bit confronting but I did like the modern styluses Jesus on the Cross.

Then on to the monastery in Nazare – much of which is similar in design the the manueline approach used at St Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon.

Next stop was lunch at the pretty seaside town of Batalha – lovely coastline and those ladies have been wearing layers and layers of skirts and knee high socks for centuries!

Finally to the medieval town of Obidos where Ginghja – the sour cherry liqueur was originally invented – so another excuse to drink some more of it. Also a pretty impressive old 9 (although not Roman old!) aqueduct.

Poland, Wielicki Salt mines

A very interesting and surprising environment awaits if you visit the Wielicki salt mines which are about 45 minutes outside of Krakow.

On arrival you walk down 183 metres with a couple of stops along the way. The climate is controlled at 15 degrees via hermetically sealed doors and the ceiling soar above you even though you are so far underground (and in fact the mines go down to 300 meters). These mines have existed since the 14th century and were only closed about 15 years ago.

Aside from actually being surrounded by massive rooms, they are full of sculptures – most done by the miners – all in salt. There is a chapel and a huge ballroom used for concerts and weddings and even the chandeliers are made of salt crystals. The last supper below is actually only six inches deep but has amazing perspective.

Here is the wedding/concert hall and the chandelier.

Poland, Auschwitz Birkenau

This post is the most challenging I’ve ever written.

That’s because it is about my visit to Auschwitz Birkenau. Some of you will know I have a mixed heritage so this visit was especially important to me. First I thought I might not post about it at all but then I figured that the whole point of this place being kept as a museum is to remind us what we can sink to and to hopefully ensure we never let (genocide coupled with chemical warfare) happen again. The weird thing is that the weather was glorious on the day we visited and the two towns are very pretty so to show it in glorious technicolor seemed somehow to denigrate the people who were there. I therefore opted for converting all photos to black and white as a mark of respect but added one in colour at the very end as a contrast.

The visit starts at Auschwitz. A place originally built as barracks so ideally suited to hold prisoners with minimal construction. The entry saying “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work sets you free) is a perverse twist of the biblical term about “truth setting you free”.

These pictures show the grounds and signage on the buildings in Auschwitz.

The next section takes you to an area that is titled the “proof rooms” where undeniable evidence exists about the horrors that happened and it feels really personal as you view shoes and baskets and pots and pans and then the cans of Zyklon B used to release the gas.

Then on to Birkenau which was actively built as a place in which to murder large numbers of people who were considered undesirable. As a comparison Auschwitz covered about 20,000 people but Birkenau was intended to house over 100,000 people. This area is where the selection took place once people got off the trains – who would live and who would be sent direct to the crematorium. It is hard to decide which was the worse fate.

For my friends in Australia the train carriage shown – actually a cattle tuck – was restored and paid for by Frank Lowy whose father disappeared when he was 13 and who refused to give up his prayer shawl when told to do so and was killed before he could be shipped to Auschwitz. These photo also show the remains of one of the gas chambers that was not destroyed by the Nazis before the allies came.

The pics below show the awful interiors where people had to live.

And finally this is where Rodolf Hóss, who ran and developed the Auschwitz Birkenau complex, was hung right in front of the place he ran a couple of years after the war ended.

And worth remembering

Poland, Krakow

This was my first time to Poland – and if you know me you know a new country is always a big thrill. After a five hour drive from Prague we arrived in Kraków. Another lovely medieval town with a main square, pretty buildings and beautiful churches and very nice and friendly people.

First stop was the university buildings area. That’s a statue of Copernicus and the interior of the Noworolski Cafe which has been in Main Square for many decades. We had our coffee outside and enjoyed people watching.

The main square itself is huge. It has a tower which is all that is left of the old town hall, a beautiful huge building called Cloth hall which has cafes and restaurants at its base and an art gallery upstairs and also another spectacular church – St Mary’s Basilica. Another claim to fame is that this is the town that Pope John Paul II came from and you feel his presence all around

Then we trekked up to Warwel Castle. Another massive complex and worth the walk – we did 23000 steps on this day!

We ended the day with a food tour – 14 different dishes from Bigos to perogies to vodka to stuffed cabbages (my fave). It was excellent – provided by Delicious Poland – give it a go if you visit.

Czech Republic, Prague – Charles Bridge, St Vitus and Chimney Cakes

I think the trick in Prague is to avoid weekends and get up early for an (almost) tourist free spectacle. Proof below with the walk along and over Charles Bridge at 8.45am

Not only lovely buildings but some pretty grumpy statues – but I guess anyone would be having to hold up buildings and Jo finally gets her Chimney Cake filled with whipped cream and apples. Have you ever seen such a joyful face?!?! By the way, the one without a face is the Frank Kafka statue.

Then a visit to St Vitus Cathedral (the patron saint of dancers, entertainers, epilepsy and oversleeping! Both the exterior and interiors are spectacular.

Interiors of St Vitus Cathedral

Czech Republic, Prague – a visit to Cesky Krumlov and knuckle of pork!

A brief sojourn from Lisbon has taken me the the Czech Republic with my mate Jo. We spent the first day on a day trip to the lovely town and castle of Cesky Krumlov. It was quite a drive but worth it to walk around the castle grounds and the castle (which was owned by three families who kept dying out due to a lot of intermarrying)! The town is charming too and the weather did all the right things. Southern Bohemia at its best.

And when we got back to Prague we ended the day with knuckle of port – and scoffed the lot

Portugal, Lisbon

And now for another continent. I am using Lisbon as a base for a month with a few side trips to catch up with friends. I am staying in the Chiado area which is the older part of town. Lots of hills, charm and red and other coloured rooftops. Luckily they have quite a few “elevadors” to enable you you to get up and down some of those hills a bit faster. The one below was built at the same time as the Eiffel Tower.

the city is full of squares and many have Carioca cafes which are tiny and sell wine, beer, snacks and lottery tickets – it is a great spot to watch the sun go down and the local Fado singer do his thing. And the statue is of an old style lottery ticket seller – if you touch the ticket you are bound to win.

In Chiado I visited the church of St Rocque which as you can see was very sumptuous. There was an excellent one hour English tour for the same price as entry. Highly recommended. These pictures just show the King’s private chapel. Commissioned in Portugal, designed and built in Italy, dismantled and shipped to Lisbon and rebuilt. Plenty of lapis lazuli, amethyst etc.d nothing is painted – everything you see is mosaics. It’s good to be king!

Decided to do something totally different and visit the renowned aquarium which is much more about conservation than most of these and there are absolutely no shows – although there were a lot of kids I had to avoid stepping on but some were unavoidable – oh well. Note to museums of ostensibly kids things -how about some times for adults only?

Here are some inhabitants who live close to the ocean. Love the penguins.

Then there was my favourite part which were the plants beneath the ocean. The second set of photos is an underwater garden designed by the Japanese wabi sabi guru Takashi Amano. Basically this is a giant garden designed to be under the water but enabling you to look upwards at the light on the surface of the water. Hard to explain but breaktking to experience. Nature remains pretty cool.