Boxing Day Walk

Well it’s a tradition to go for a walk on Boxing Day but as I had totted up about thirty miles over the last two days, I had planned a visit today to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation which is less than ten minutes from the hotel. I set off around nine in time to take breakfast on the way and arrive at opening time at 10 when I hoped it would be less busy than later in the day. The streets were totally different today – still plenty of Chinese tourists – but lots of Portuguese people grabbing a bite before going to the office, workers in hard hats everywhere, cranes swinging overhead – like most major cities, Lisbon will be lovely when it’s finished. With a fresh orange juice, a cinnamon croissant and the obligatory pastel de nata inside me I arrived at the foundation and followed signs through a large, very dark and leafy park to the main entrance.

I knew from earlier emails that I’d get in for half price as an senior and happily parted with my 7 euros. As I walked out just over four hours later it felt like good value.

Gulbenkian made most of his money from oil in Iran and the Gulf and as well as being an avid collector of ancient and modern art and artefacts also instituted a series of cultural and educational programmes. There are two main areas: The Founder’s Collection and The Modern Collection at opposite sides of the park. I started in the antiquities building with a sense that I was back in the Getty Mansion in LA, surrounded by a similar array of amazing pieces from ancient Egypt – how does glass survive 24 centuries? – encompassing pottery and jewellery as well. I was struck by the nautical theme of the last few days with this bronze from 500 BCE and also by the clarity and spaciousness of the galleries. I also fell for the Egyptian cat and her kittens.

I suspect that even on busy days you would be able to move around and read the captions without too much of a struggle. It was also a pleasing feature to catch glimpses of the garden through the large windows. The exterior is a bit brutalist for my taste but you forget all that concrete once you are in these intriguing galleries.

There’s a progression though Greek, Roman and a lot of Islamic art given the Gulf connection – lovely tiles and carpets and illustrated manuscripts. I ambled happily through the rooms until arriving at the French collection – all that overgilded, overblown Versailles furniture – not for me! But then the big surprise which proved I did a bit of reading but not enough, but then of course it wouldn’t have been a surprise. Gulbenkian also had an eye, or good advisers, for French, Italian, Dutch and English painters and OK Singer Sargent was American and his lovely Ladies Sleeping in a Punt under Willows is here. I positively wallowed in some excellent Corot landscapes, Guardi’s views of Venice which I have always slightly preferred to Canaletto, a brooding Rembrandt Old Man, a wonderful ahead-of-its-time Durer duck.

I was also taken by the Edo period Bento box with its flowery lacquer. Gainsborough and Lawrence portraits and two magnificent Turners, Monet, Manet and Degas completed the feast. Happy morning!

In the temporary exhibition space was a display of sculpture from Rodin’s time in Paris including one of the Burghers Of Calais. It was nicely arranged with section on standing poses, non-posed naturalistic work, group sculpture and nursing mothers. I then took myself across the park to the Modern building passing on the way a splendid amphitheatre at which concerts take place with a lake in the background. Should I ever be here for a performance I’ll bring a cushion as the concrete seats looked rather hard. Kenwood music by the Lake without the stately home.

The modern collection is mostly of Portuguese sculpture, painting and installations one of which really caught my eye and ear. There are 34 boom boxes forming the word NO while playing the spoken word YES in as many different tones.

Otherwise there were some interesting pieces and it’s odd isn’t it how you get drawn to particular items. I approached one thinking that’s good to find it was by Jim Dine and to another that proved a Rachel Whiteread, Maybe the old adage is true ‘Class will out’.

In suddenly realised it was after two o’clock and I needed to find somewhere to watch Watford v Chelsea so rushed back to the hotel only to look at my calendar and realise that it’s a 19:30 kick off. On my way I did pass a sports bar so I should be OK. My other afternoon disaster was to attempt to rent a car. I had always thought it would be a good idea to get out to Sintra and back via the coast at Cascais and Estoril. There was a conveniently close Europcar who could rent me a VW Polo or equivalent. The clerk then said: “I’d better tell you the price before we do the paperwork.” Doesn’t augur well. 210 euros for a one-day hire. The Raggett pauper reared again – I had a car in Spain for ten days in the summer for less than that. So if the rail strike permits (60-odd % running according to the news) I’ll go by train tomorrow. Then back to the hotel to blog and be amazed by the day’s Premier League earlier results – How many goals? – and prepare to pop off to the sports bar for 19:30.

The sports bar was part of a hotel and had a few scarves and shirts (Benfica, Sporting, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Man United) I didn’t bring mine with me or they’d have had a Watford one to add. What they did have was the game on TV and an IPA which truly sprung (or Springed) off the shelf:and at 6.5% it might well have had even me doing karaoke. As it was the few others in the bar were amused but not disturbed but my oohs and aahs and scream of delight at the equaliser. Their penalty was never in much doubt but the Portuguese commentators were adamant ours was a nailed on penalty on Deleofeu. They showed it in close up and from five angles about five times and were most agitated on our behalf. The bar had wings, nachos, burgers and other suitable sports bar fare so I consumed a modest supper during the second half. I’m not sure whether it was anger at the ref or the food but I had a very disturbed night and was actually quite glad I wasn’t going to be driving first thing in the morning.

Dia de Natal a Lisboa

I had done a bit of research on places open to eat on Christmas Day – very few. However they included the highly-rated Ribadouro which was in walking distance of the hotel. So I walked off towards it to try to make a booking. Wrong! It doesn’t open until 12 but some chefs were lounging at the back door smoking and said if I came about three o’clock I’d get a table. So I went to the wonderfully named Praça de Alegria (Square of Joy) sat on a bench in the sun and planned a tour. I had explored the Baixa area yesterday so today it was the Barrio Alto, now my Portuguese may be negligible but in any language I knew it meant lots of up.

I made it up to the Mirador of San Antonio which had a convenient Christmas Market so I was able to have a coffee, a custard tart (OK pastel de nata) and find a bench from which to Skype my son and daughter-in-law post lunch in Hong Kong. We had a good catch up and agreed that Lisbon was a fine city, if hilly. As I looked from the mirador across the city to the Castel de Sao Jorge, I started to wonder if my plan to include that was sensible or even sane.

Having made it up to the Barrio Alto there was some up and down but undulating rather than the precipitous gradients I’d conquered earlier – even the tram wheezed a lot. It’s a grid of streets with some residential some commercial and a few of them open today. Relief came when I was able to buy a waiter’s friend (trusty Swiss Army left at home as I had no hold baggage this trip) and had a bottle of wine back at the hotel for later in the day – organic you see, no screw tops!

I gradually made my way back down to the riverside in time for a coffee in the trendy Chiado district.

There was a good display of old newspapers through the ages in front of the city hall which I admired prior along with a novel festive tree. I then had a flat walk across to the square before the ascent to the castle. A fortifying beer was needed to tackle that, rather spoiled by a persistent multilingual beggar – at least he knew Happy Christmas, Bonne Natale, Frohe Weihnachten and Feliz Navidad to address to various passers by. Oh delight! Just past the bar is a beautiful sight – an escalator. It took me two thirds of the climb leaving just the final scramble up to to the gates of the castle to see this notice.

I should have checked but thought maybe a castle would be open but if they can charge you for entrance then they’d have had to pay staff today. So I walked around the area, spotting a few stretches of battlements but missing out on the (supposedly) fabulous view across the city – well I had seen it from the other side.

The escalator was only up and just as I was contemplating hundreds if not thousands of steps down a small bus appeared which was headed down to the square at the start of the Avenida de Libertad where my lunch would soon await. I was a bit early, not a Raggett characteristic, so I had a beer in a padeleria where pastel de nata were just waiting to go into the oven.

So I walked up the opposite side of the avenue to yesterday and then crossed to Ribadouro where they were indeed able to find me a table, right beside a tasty tank full of lobsters.

They were a popular choice and the couple at the next table were battling their way through oysters, large prawns and a whole good sized lobster. They were a young Chinese couple, she severely elegant like the casino villainess in any number of dramas, he in scruffy top, joggers and trainers. Oh and have I mentioned that at least one in three of all people on the streets today is Chinese. Maybe it’s the Macau connection, maybe just that the Chinese are now the world’s greatest tourists. Anyway I decided that a lobster would be too far I accepted the suggestion of the traditional Lisbon Christmas dish of baked cod loin served with caramelised onions and pink peppercorns. I had read somewhere that many restaurants bring some plates to the table which you could be forgiven for thinking were freebie appetisers but which then get added to the bill. I was quite peckish so a plate of pata negre ham went down very well with a glass or several of a Lisbon white wine called Lasso. I managed most of what looked like a half a cod which was very tasty but an unusual Christmas choice for me. After a coffee, I made my way back up through the busy Winter Wonderland to the hotel to Skype the rest of the family, write a blog, read a book and enjoy some wine thanks to my newly acquired friend.