Monday 4 September 2017

Pensao Amor

To be considered great, to me a bar has to have a few essential characteristics; they have to serve decent gin, they have to be dimly lit, they need to be hard to find and last but not least, have a quirky and unique interior. ‘Pensao Amor’ ticked all those boxes … it is off the beaten track, although not far from the main square and down a side street (on the Rua do Alecrim to be precise) where all the bars have no obvious entrances or signage. Pensao Amor means, at least according to google translator anyway, ‘think love’. A not totally inappropriate name, given that it used to be a brothel! And with that I couldn’t wait to get upstairs. …. though just for a drink, obviously!

   Oooh Matron 

The décor and ambience certainly reflected it’s previous history and no doubt would raise more than a smile for some patrons. Salacious and titillating images, faux-classic noir art, velvet seats and animal print benches with tacky, whorehouse chic chandeliers. I just wanted to have it flat-packed and take it home with me.

The loos were well worth a visit just on their own, with the ‘art’ on display somewhat immodest to say the least. Miniature figurines portraying a variety of sexual acts for the amusement and titillation of those relieving themselves. The pole in the bar was just too inviting (thank God it was only one in the afternoon and no one was around to see my Sally Bowles moment!). No getting away with that in a vintage Caroline Charles jacket.

The bar was dimly lit naturally and as always when I’m in a hot climate, I ordered a classic Negroni. My companion on this trip opted for a mojito and by heaven, were they good. We sat, attempting an air of sophistication, in-between the old chesterfields and imagined it was the sort of place Mata Hari would come to dance for her supper. The Pensao Amor has to be in the top three bars I have visited anywhere in the world. Come here, I dare you, just make sure you dress appropriately…. or should that be inappropriately?!


A week in Lisbon

I’d heard many things about Lisbon before visiting the city. Mainly that it was looking rather run down; a bit like a gifted and artistic younger brother who is too tired and lazy to clean his room. It is a capital city but without the glitzy razzmatazz of a Paris or Rome or an obvious weekend break destination like Prague or Amsterdam. But that didn’t bother me, it was my birthday, it was early March and it was bloody hot. Psst! Don’t tell everyone but you can fly there as cheap as chips from many UK airports with Portugal’s national airline (and yes, that does include a generous luggage allowance, a meal, and a cold Sagres).

Upon landing, we transferred straight to our wonderfully authentic 17th-century apartment in the historic Alfama district. If you are staying in one of these gems (and I very much suggest you do) expect tiny spiral staircases, beautifully bijou rooms (duck or grouse, as they say!)) and neighbours who talk to each other at a frantic pace across the street, whilst drying their washing, draped over balconies.
Our location was perfect … within a stone’s throw a view of the pantheon, pastel coloured houses, the sea that twinkles with lights from the opposite bay and a small, green park with a great café bar selling chilled beers and playing funky beats. Where else in a European capital can you get two rounds with a sea view for less than 5 Euros? I utterly recommend sitting here and watching the world go by after a hard day sightseeing or better yet, reward yourself by finding a vintage gem at the famous flea market, the Fiera Da Ladra, just across the park.

Wine with a View

It has to be said that you earn your views when walking around Lisbon … it’s built on seven hills. With each step, you are rewarded with the most spectacular sights, with one beautiful and impressive building after another and fabulous street art, whether that be poetry or pictures. But if the walks are a little bit too much, you can catch a ride on the old tram (number 28 being the most famous). I’ll leave these pictures here for a moment. The architecture of this city is undeniably stunning, though a little rough around the edges; faded elegance maybe but definitely elegantly wasted. There is nothing better than getting lost in this city, in its endless alleyways with the faint sounds of Fado, echoing in the distance. For the best view, head to St Georges Castle, climb to the top and grab a bottle of the local vino from the inspired truck shop, ‘Wine with a View’ and watch the sun set over this glorious city. If you like your views with an element of danger, then grab a standing cable car over Lisbon Zoo and look down in trepidation as you are dangled over the lion's enclosure. Gulp!

Of course, some of us modern folk need our history in small doses and if you are after the more vibrant side of the city, take a train ride to Parque das Nacoes. This is home to one of the largest aquariums in the world with an ultra-modern marina, edgy and ultra-hip apartments and brand new shops. Grab a cable car and ride up and the down with the sea beneath your feet.

You are in for a real treat if you are a foodie, and in my view, Lisbon is seriously underrated in this respect. Start your day as the locals do, with a hit of the local beverage, ‘Ginjinha’, a sour cherry liquor that is incredibly moreish for only 1 euro and served at ‘hole’s in the wall’ all over the city. To eat the cherry or not? You decide! Local specialities are plentiful, including Peri Peri chicken, spatch-cocked and simply grilled (yes it is bloody better than Nando’s!.) As a coastal city, the national dish of salted cod is delicious, as are the sardines. I’ve now become a huge fan of these fish, bulk buying them in tins and having them simply on toast or with pasta and drizzled with fresh lemons. They also love their meat sandwiches here, be it steak or pork …. the joke being that they are the pudding course here! Of course, you cannot come to Lisbon or indeed Portugal, without eating one of the orgasmic custard pastry tart confections. I could happily eat these morning, noon and night.

I love Lisbon, it’s, without doubt, one of my favourite European cities. It's friendly, it's cheap and for me, it was a true revelation. You have this otherworldly atmosphere of European, South American and African cultures all mixing and vibing together. It has the feeling and looks of a San Francisco or Rio. It’s also by the sea …. what more could you ask for? It’s what they call the ‘the big little city’ and I urge you all to visit, it’s a diamond in the rough …. just wait till I tell you about the vintage shops and the bar that used to be a brothel!

 This place certainly gives you tile envy!

(You'll find polka dot stingray's and animalprint fish in the aquarium. Even the fish are fashionable)

Till next time. Tchau.

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