As I write the central heating is on full blast, the rain is battering the windows and to top it off it’s only 3pm and already going dark. Welcome to a typical winter in the north of England.
It’s all a bit different to last week at this time, we were in Lisbon, celebrating my husbands fortieth, walking around in short sleeves and eating our body weight in custard tarts.
I’m by no means a sun worshipper but after visiting Stockholm for a previous birthday, three days of blue skies and warmer temperatures was definitely good for the soul. Plus after reading Lisbon was the new Berlin we had to go and check it out for ourselves.
Also on the mini break with us was our two year old son, and I won’t lie travelling with a toddler is never easy and not without its mixture of laughter and tears , but if you’re thinking of heading to this pretty city anytime time soon here are my highlights.
What can I say, without a continuous supply of amazing baked goods I don’t think I could have made it up all those steep hills and never ending steps. Lisbon is rather hard to get around with a small person, not only because of the gradients but also the cobbles. But on the flip side you can eat custard tarts guilt free as the calories are instantly burnt off.
They say every time you eat a custard tart St Anthony will grant you a miracle. Well, in that case, I’m due a major one! I’ve been having total withdrawal symptoms since we got home, especially for the warm ones we ate at breakfast (I know – we developed a problem). The thing is though, no matter where you bought them from, (and they were only a Euro each by the way), they were totally delicious – rich, buttery flaky pastry and gooey sweet custard.
The MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology is Lisbon’s equivalent to Tate Modern. Partly a former power station and partly a new iconic waterfront development. Exhibitions are split into three areas. Firstly the vast new space which also has a walk way up onto the roof giving you breathtaking views over the city and Tagus. The old Tejo building then houses two large exhibition spaces and finally the tanks which now host video and sound pieces.
We had a great afternoon here after a bit of a trek from Belem station, again it wouldn’t have been a problem if we didn’t have a pram, but be warned there are a lot of stairs to climb. Once inside though you soon forget about all that with a huge variety of contemporary artworks and installations. On our visit the main exhibition, ‘Electronic Superhighway’ had been produced by London’s Whitechapel Gallery and included over 100 pieces showing the impact new technologies and the Internet has had on artists from the 1960s to now.
More of a refined restaurant experience than Copenhagen Street Food, this super slick food hall had immaculate signage and produce to match. It had a really great atmosphere too and a good mix of tourist, locals and importantly for us families of different ages. I personally always steer towards Asian or Japanese food but here you can dabble in traditional Portuguese style food without the Fado.
Another local delicacy you must try are the cod fish cakes. They look like mini pasties but are basically salted flaked cod covered in fine breadcrumbs. They really are a bitesize taste of the Mediterranean and will give you a much needed carb boost for all that walking.
As you can probably appreciate we have been rather spoilt when it comes to aquariums after visiting Den Bla Planet in Denmark but I must say we loved our day here. Firstly on a practical level under 3’s get in free and there is plenty of changing facilities and the staff are super helpful when it comes to accessing everything with a pram.
The building itself is a bit of a beast, with a covered walkway taking you over the Tagus into the main space. The central tank is just mesmerising and from there you go through four different zones. Our particular favourites where the penguins and sea otters as well as the rain forest area – the suspended rope walkways where particularly super exciting for Fox.
If you have been to Den Bla Planet and love Mojo as much as us you really need to visit, as here the sea otter enclosure is staged very differently and makes it really easy for you to see them behaving naturally.
The thing that really struck my husband and I however was the current temporary exhibition, ‘Forests Underwater by Takashi Amano’. The experience will stay with my forever. The beautiful planting, sea life and ambient music created by composer Rodrigo Leao all complimented each other perfectly. It really was, and I hate to say this totally ‘immersive’ and would not have been out of place in a world class gallery space.
Whenever you visit a city for the first time its always good to head to its main meeting point.
Even on a November afternoon the imperial architecture shone in the sunlight and the square was busy with tourists and locals, and an awful lot of hungry pigeons all waiting for our custard tarts.
From here its a flat, straight walk along the newly redeveloped Ribeira das Naus or ‘River Beach’ with its bars and restaurants which are ideally placed for watching the sun set over the Ponte 25 de Abril, Lisbon’s spectacular answer to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Hopefully it won’t be to long until our next trip, with plans already underway to discover another Nordic city. for the first time!