Alfama, our neighborhood in Lisbon

We lived one week on December 2014 in Alfama, the oldest district of Lisbon. It was a charming borrowed time in Alfama. It has many historical attractions, churches and Fado bars. Alfama is a maze of narrow cobbled alleys with buildings covered with azulejos.  It’s easy and at the same time enjoyable getting lost in it. From balconies flapped bed sheets, towels and clothes, even underwear. It has several viewpoints with orange cityscape. In some streets came century-old trams screeching by. A long time ago, when the North African moors dominated the district, fishermen and the poor inhabited Alfama. Even now, it is still seen as the neighborhood of the poor. One evening, as we did our grocery at the neighborhood store, a fight ensued between two drunken men. One of the men took refuge in the grocery store. There were shouting and threats, and the whole street seemed to be involved. Neighbors went out to check what was going on and stayed outside to witness more boxing match. I would’ve loved to stay, but my six-yead old daughter had to sleep. It sort of reminded me of street fights and neighborhood drama in my own hometown, Guadalupe Nuevo in Makati, Philippines. And believe me, no street fight has ever scared me. 🙂  So what historica sights are there in this district? Sé Cathedral Igreja de São Vicente de Fora or Monastery of São Vicente de Fora Panteão Nacional or National Pantheon or Church of Santa Engracia Museo de Fado Castelo de São Jorge To see where we lived, click my blog entry At Pedro’s aparment... read more

Spirit of Ginjinha

Ginjinha is a typical Portuguese drink. Our friend Pedro introduced it to us.  It’s a mixture of ginja, or sour cherries, and alcohol. I don’t like drinking it as it is. I prefer to drink it the way people in Óbidos, Portugal, do. That is, drinking it in a small edible chocolate cup. It was a friar who concocted... read more

Lunch with a Sunnite

I had lunch with Shadman, a new acquaintance. I was curious, because he is a sunnite and criticizes without fear the radical islamic group, Islamic State, IS. He was my source in two of my articles. One is a news article about the death of Atta Mahmoud, Sweden-based son of the famous kurdish leader Muhamad Haji Mahmud. Atta came back to north Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, to help his father fight against the terrorist IS. He died in the war field in November 2014. The other is a reportage about the fear of kurds for IS and how Sweden-based jihadists go back to Iraq and Syria to fight for IS. He criticizes IS and also shakes his head with the thought of Sweden “welcoming home” jihadists. He has friends and family brutally slaughtered by IS. He is a sunnite, and describes himself as a modern, democratic and open muslim. To have a caliphate with iron-fist rule is not his idea of a dream land. It is what he fears and abhors. He is a writer, contributing political columns for newspapers in Iraqi Kurdistan, often citing Sweden as an example of democracy that works well for the people. He is also a politician, a member of the Kurdistan socialist democratic party.    ... read more

Funiculars of Lisbon

The funicular system of Lisbon consists of four elevators. We rode two of them: the Gloria funicular and Santa Justa Lift.  Gloria funicular is very much like riding a tram, but the descent or ascent goes diagonally. It is also as crowded as a tram. Santa Justa Elevator is different than the other funiculars because it’s a vertical one. And it doesn’t look like a tram, instead it’s a huge and very old-fashioned elevator. Reaching the top leads to a lookout with panoramic views of Lisbon. Hubby complained a lot as we queued for both funiculars. I feel though that they were worth checking out – at least once – to get a feel of what the ado was all about. The funiculars are natonal monuments, and tourist magnets. They are also around a century old.... read more

Playful modern crafts in Märsta

It was a pleasant day at work today. Among others, I took a look at the new exhibit “Modernt Hantverk”, highlighting modern crafts at Konsthall Märsta.  A set of dresses of earthenware glazes by Agneta Spångberg at the entrance were enough to make me want to see more. The exhibit features different techniques, materials and expressions. It was a delight to see each and every piece of art. Every minute detail. 20 of Sweden’s best contemporary craftsmen are represented in this exhibit. It’s open until May 16. And oh, the reasons I like Konsthall Märsta is that the exhibits are of very good taste, featuring established artists – plus the entrance is free. Konsthall Märsta will be giving a workshop on modern craft in March and April. I just might write about that for  our newspaper, Sigtunabygden. Footnote: Here’s a link to the article I wrote about the exhibit.    ... read more

Accessible art in Lisbon

I see art in many streets, if not all the streets, in Lisbon. Art is the beautiful tilework azulejo that covers building facades. Art is the colorful legal graffiti painted in backstreets. It is photographies permanently posted on apartment walls And if you look down on the ground, there’s art through decorative stone pavings. And art in Lisbon is free. Accessible to anyone walking by. To art lovers like me.      ... read more

Auto-da-fe at Rossio

Spain had its inquisition, and so did Portugal. Rossio square in Lisbon was one of the scenes for auto-da-fes. Inquisitions, which started in the 1500s, used to target former Jews who converted to Catholicism. Many of the victims in the Portuguese Inquisition were Spanish jews who moved to Portugal. Somehow, these ex-jews still applied old customs, thus making them “guilty” of witchcraft and heresy. Rossio was also the scene for bullfights and public executions. Reminds me so much of Plaza Mayor in... read more

Where a taifa ruler once lived

Sintra National Palace is another palace that I’ve visited that has islamic moorish roots. It’s beautiful inside. The boring white facade and two chimneys make it somehow easy to underestimate this medieval palace. We were hesitant to see inside. But we paid to get in, anyway. We didn’t go all the way to Sintra just to look at building facades after all. My favorite in the palace is the Blazons hall. All four walls of the hall are covered with azulejos depicting country life. And the ceilings are just as beautiful. There’s a decoration – a magnificent miniature Chinese palace made of ivory, so I had to explain to my daughter that using ivory is not good. It means torturing  many elephants to sever their trunks. Sintra National Palace was once owned by a muslim taifa ruler in the 700s. There’s another medieval castle in Sintra that we visited, Castle of the Moors.... read more

Castle of the Moors

As we ascended the hill to reach the top where the ruins of the Castle of the Moors was perched, we wondered how much energy it took for medieval people to go up and down the castle. It’s tough work, even for modern people like us, with our buses and cars that help us get there. The castle introduced me a little bit to the history of the moors, i.e. medieval muslims. That was their castle, built in the 700s, and it was a long period that they were in power. But then christians invaded the castle, and later conquered Portugal. As I stood at the innerwall, overlooking the town of Sintra, I thought about moorish guards standing right on the very spot where I stood. They were dark-skinned and muslims. The castle had a chapel that christians used. When the place was abandoned, Jews used the chapel. But later on, they were expelled. Three kinds of religion used this spot to worship. “Are you climbing all the way up?” asked hubby. “No. I think I’m good just standing here,” I said. It’s a tough climb, almost like the Great Wall of China, but a smaller scale. And somehow dangerous. There are no rails on one side, so one can lose balance, or make a mistake of walking too near the edge, and drop. It reminds me of the Polish parents who died in front of their kids, 5 and 6 years old, while taking a selfie at the edge of a cliff somewhere in Portugal in August 2014. But then I saw a mother carrying a baby – perhaps a... read more

Pena – a storybook palace

Pena National Palace in Sintra is very much like a storybook palace. Its facade reminds me of Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas, but of course, the hotel’s interior deisgn is nothing compared to the palace. The palace is a UNESCO world heritage site. Before it became a palace in the 1800s, it was the site of a monastery that was damaged in Lisbon’s great earthquake 1755. For centuries, it was a small, quiet house of meditation, with around 18 monks. The monastery stood on a hill. But long before a monastery was built, there was once a chapel for the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Pena, on the site. (PS Thanks, Veronica Näslund, för recommending this... read more

The Romantic Sintra

Sintra! That’s my friend Veronica hustling us via Facebook to see the municipality of Sintra in Portugal. I’m glad we listened. Sintra is a must-see in Lisbon. It has many 19th-century Romantic buildings. Romantic architecture, if I understood right, means: wild, fanciful, with untame landscapes, mystical, intriguing, grandiose and with overwhelming details, opposes realism and classical architecture, and revives the medieval Gothic. We took a 40-minute train from Lisbon to Sintra. From Sintra’s train station there were buses that took us to three different palaces. There are actually several palaces, but we only had time to see three sights! The road up to Sintra is narrow and zigzagged, so I am glad we didn’t rent a car, as we were planning previously. The tourist sights we were able to see in a day in Sintra: Pena National Palace The Castle of the Moors Sintra National Palace    ... read more

Cavaquinho, the mother of the ukelele

At first we thought it was ukelele. But it’s called a cavaquinho,  a small four-stringed instrument with Greek-Latin origin.  The instrument was introduced in Minho, a northern region of Portugal, from where it started its journey towards Brazil and Cape Verde. So there’s a Minho cavaquinho, a Brazilian one, and another kind in Cape Verde. The American ukelele from Hawaii is another successor of the cavaquinho. We learned about the the instrument through an exhibit at Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon, december 2014. The instruments in the exhibit were painted into beautiful works of art by 70 artists. Three cavaquinhos in this blog post are painted by Mutes, Mario Fresco and Paula Rosa. Cavaquinho players are called cavaquistas.... read more

Shells of Manueline

Visiting Portugal taught us a little about Manueline architecture.  From what registered in my brains, these are what’s easiest to remember when it comes to what Manueline is all about: It has marine elements: anchors, ropes, shells, pearls, seaweeds. There are lots of these at Pena National Palace in Sintra. Botanical motifs like oak leaves and acorns. We saw such in Jeronimos monastery. There’s a long list, but then I’ll have to be paid to babble them all. (Note: just check wiki! 🙂... read more

Worth the long queue

The queue to Jerónimos Monastery is ever so long. It’s easy to give up, but don’t. It’s a beautiful monastery – perhaps one of the most beautiful monasteries I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t matter what time one starts lining up, the queue is always long, according to our Portuguese friend Pedro. He recommends an early morning visit, but even then, Chinese tourists are already in place before opening time! Midway, we felt for giving up. The monastery looked quite average on the outside. The door, which is the most eye-catching of its facade, is rather pale compared to the door of Notre Dame, for instance. But once inside, we were relieved to not have given up. “It’s one of the most beautiful monasteries I’ve ever seen,” said hubby. What we did there? Walked in the cloisters, checked the guitar exhibit, and the church. And just enjoyed and identified the Manueline ornamentation. We also saw the tomb of Vasco de Gama. He was just the man whose discovery started global imperialism. I come from a colonized country, so I cannot say that I am happy and grateful for being colonized. It took a century to build this monastery. The construction started in 1501.... read more

He started global imperialism

Portugal is the reason that global imperialism was established. It all started with Vasco de Gama’s discovery of the route to India from Portugal by sea. A century after Vasco de Gama’s discovery in 1498, other countries like Great Britain, France and the Netherlands followed in the footsteps of Portugal and colonized Asian and African countries. Portugal’s neighbor country, Spain, colonized my country, the Philippines, from 1556. The spaniards actually came earlier, in 1521, headed by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who turned-coat and sailed for the Spanish flag. There was resistance against the European invaders. Ferdinand Magellan was even killed in a battle in the island Mactan, where the native leader Lapu-Lapu fought him. Lapu-Lapu is regarded as the Philippines’ first national hero, because he was the first to resist Spanish colonization. It was in 1556 that the Spaniards finally succeeded in taking over the Philippines. (Read this blog that I read, which is interesting. It’s about the spanish colonial period). Above is the tomb of Vasco de Gama in the Jeronimos Monastery in Belém, Lisbon, Portugal. The night before Vasco de Gama sailed out to the Orient in 1497, he stayed and prayed at this site, which was back then another church, called The Hermitage of Restelo.    ... read more

World’s largest suspension bridge

“The Golden Gate, mamma!” said my daughter when she saw the bridge in Lisbon. Not! It’s a look-alike, 25 de Abril Bridge.  25 de Abril is the world’s largest suspension bridge, and Europe’s longest bridge. It has two decks. The upper deck for cars, and the lower, for trains. It’s named since 1974 after Portugal’s Freedom Day. April 25, 1974 was when the Carnation Revolution took place, when both the military and civilians overthrew the dictatorial Estado Novo regime. The bridge was inaugurated 1966 and was originally named after the professor-turned-politician and dictator, Antonio Salazar, who founded the Estado Novo regime. Ironically, he is considered as one of the greatest Portuguese, and the worse…... read more

I love azulejos

The ceramic tilework azulejos are everywhere in Lisbon: on walls and floors, inside and outside buildings.  I told hubby that I’ve seen this technique in my country, too. I remember my grandma’s ancentral home had these on some walls and the kitchen. But in Lisbon, there were plenty of these. Even some ramshackle houses have these. I was impressed. I stopped at each artwork to check the details. Azulejos were originally an imitation of mosaics and had islamic origins. The tiles were introduced to Spain by muslim Moors. When Manuel I, king of Portugal visited Seville in Spain, he saw the technique and introduced it to Portugal, according to Wiki. When these two countries set out to colonize South America and the Philippines, they introduced the technique to these colonies, too. Many buildings in Lisbon were destroyed during a great earthquake 1755, so azulejos were used sparingly after that.... read more

Busy bee-yellow tram

The century old tram 28 is screechy and shaky and unbelievably crowded. But tourists flock it anyway. We were advised to ride Tram 28 from the the start of the route, at Praca Martim Moniz, as it would be less crowded then. Nevertheless it took almost an hour to stand in a queue. And the tram’s schedule was a guessing game, nobody knew exactly when it would come. During our first attempt to ride it, there was a couple who tried to cut in the line. Oh did the other tourists, including myself, whine! “Respect the queue!” was the unanimous cry. So the couple was forced to walk to the end of the line. There were very few seats, but since we were among the first to get in, we were lucky to get some seats. However, two people tried to squeeze in where my six-year old daughter sat, so I complained, and one of them left the seat. The chair we sat on was leaning downward, so during the roller-coaster  ride up and down steep hills, we kept sliding down. The ride was uncomfortable. But we took it several times. Not because the ride was enjoyable – but because there were only two choices for us: walk torturously up and down cobbled hilly streets in my heeled boots, or take the rickety tram. And besides, riding the tram is like going back in time. In Sweden (or elsewhere) we only get to see century-old trams in the... read more

Lisbon’s orange rooftops

Lisbon is a capital city of orange rooftops. Since it has seven hills, we tortured ourselves by walking up and down cobbled streets to get to viewpoints with a vista of old pastel houses, grey and white churches and a dark Moorish castle. The busy bee-yellow trams could also be seen zigzagging the steep streets. We were here in the last week of December, when temperature went down to zero degree, which was unusually cold, according to a... read more

In the city of Azulejos

Right now I am in the city of azulejos and green doors. For the first time, we rent an apartment in the old town of Alfama, the district where music Fado is everywhere. Will be blogging more about the city later. read more

My Swedish Christmas

Christmas celebration in Sweden comes on the day before Christmas Eve, December 24. It is odd that the celebration is officially started by watching a Donald Duck programme on TV, with the classic Walt Disney film clips. And you have to watch it (or pretend to watch it). Strangely, they watch this year after year since the 1950’s, according to fambams. I often wonder whoever started this Donald duck tradition… After Donald Duck, there is another Christmas programme – with a Swedish choir draped in folk costumes singing Swedish yuletide songs. Lovely voices. But they are often drowned by the excitement of Santa Claus’ visit. Santa Claus does not climb down a chimney. He comes knocking on the door – and hopefully, the kids don’t recognize the fake white beard and a familiar face of an uncle behind the beard (the uncle who said he would just go out and buy a newspaper). In our family though, we have solved this by asking a neighbor to come as Santa. In return, our uncle will be Santa for his family. Exchange of Santas! Christmas presents are called “julklapp” or “Christmas knocks”. The term has been coined long before Santa Claus ever came to town. For a long, long time ago, on Christmas night, a mysterious person would come to the door ad knock hard and throw a present inside the house, then run off in the darkness. Ham and sausage in the old Swedish tradition are very important. The historical reason according to the book “Maypoles, Crayfish and Lucia” by Jan-Öjvind Swahn is that “Christmas was the only time of year when people... read more

Eight-armed Vishnu

And I thought that Vishnu had four arms (which is two too many already). But the Vishnu-statue at Angkor Wat has eight. The statue greeted us at the western entrance of Angkor Wat. It’s hard to miss. It’s about five meters tall, and buddhists and buddhists monks prayed before it and offered fruits. It was draped with a very yellow shimmering cloth. Angkor wat used to be a Hindu temple, so the statue originally portrayed Vishnu. Later, when it turned into a buddhist temple, they removed the old head of the vishnu statue and replaced it with a buddha-looking god. Angkor wat is the only ancient man-made Wonder of World that does not just serve as tourist attraction. It also remains a popular place of worship among buddhists.  ... read more