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A few weeks ago, Michael and I visited the district of Belém, 6km from Lisbon – a popular tourist spot. It was pretty easy to get there by train.

From the train station, we walked toward the town and saw the very impressive Monastery of Jerónimos in the distance. Being lunch time, we decided on a seafood restaurant after checking its menu posted on the window. We enjoyed a scrumptious fish meal and then with full tummies strode toward the the monastery to see what we could see and learn.

We thought we’d do a Tuk Tuk tour, instead of a 3-4 hour walking tour, just to get an overall view of the place.

Monastery of Jeronimos in the background

Our very knowledgeable Tuk Tuk driver and guide, Paolo, took us on a bumpy ride to the hill top to the Palácio da Ajuda’s .

Nothing was straightforeward about this palace’s history explained Paolo. King Joseph and his family happened to be in Belem when the 1755 earthquake and tsunami destroyed Lisbon.



Spooked by the destruction in the capital, the king suffered great anxiety about living in a house made of masonry.  He had tents of wood and fabric erected on the Palace grounds to live in,  which unfortunately burned down in 1792.  In 1807, the royal family fled to Brazil when Napoleon’s troops invaded Portugal.

Palácio da Ajuda

For me it’s intriguing to come to the place from where Vasco da Gama set sail on 8 July 1497, establishing a sea route to India and stopping off at the Cape of Good Hope. I well remember Vasco da Gama and those darned dates I had to memorize for history tests.  He docked in a bay off the Atlantic coast near Cape Town, he named St. Helena Bay.  

Monument to the Discoveries

The riverfront Monument to the Discoveries was erected in commemoration of the 500th anniversary since the death of Prince Henry the Navigator (also I character with whom I’m familiar from school history days).  The monument had orginally been constructed for the 1940 World Expo.

On each side, the Monument encompasses a representation of 33 Portuguese heroes with Prince Henry the Navigator leading the van.  Also included in this illustrious company are revered Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões, Pedro Álvares Cabral, who discovered Brazil, Gil Eanes, the first to traverse beyond Cape Bojador and Bartolomeu Dias, the first to cross the Cape of Good Hope. The rest represented include important navigators, painters, mathematicians, cartographers and kings.

Belem Tower


Belém Tower was commissioned by King John II as part of the Tagus estuary defence system and built between 1515 and 1520 in classical Manueline  architecture. It was the last thing sailors saw as they sailed to foreign lands to return months later with gold and spices, bringing great wealth to their native land. Ranking as one of Portugal’s iconic structures, the tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Vasco da Gama in blue tile and his crypt in The Church of Santa Maria at the Jeronimo Monastery

Our guide, Paola, pointed out other points of interest such as The National Coach Museum housing over 70 royal carriages.  For those interested in things naval, there’s the Maritime Museum with a selection of exhibits about the ships and navagational instruments of the Age of Discovery.  There are a number of other museums and art galleries to satisfy your interests. We came back to our starting point near the Monastery of Jeronimos.

Monastery of Jeronimos with Manueline Church of Santa Maria

Like the Belém Tower, the Church of Santa Maria and the Monastery symbolize the Portuguese Age of Discovery. The Monastery is named for the Catholic enclosed Order of Saint Jerome or Hieronymites, a common name for several congregations of hermit monks living according to the Rule of Saint Augustine.

In 1983, together with  the Belém Tower, the Monastery was formally designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Anyone will tell you no visit to Belém is complete without sampling a pastel de Belém (the real McCoy) or two. And I must say, queuing for these warm, creamy, divine custard tarts was absolutely worth it. Paolo had given us the heads up about the cavernous interior that seats 400 people, and marvellous tile work of the Pastéis de Belém to check out.


Rick Steves aptly describes Lisbon as “a ramshackle but charming mix of now and then.” It consists of an impossible maze of narrow streets up seriously steep hills. So renting a car for the duration of our stay was not even a consideration. Since we are going to spend just over two months here, getting a Viva viagem “top-up” metro card was a no brainer. Not only is it proving to be the most economical way to get around, it’s also quite easy and very convenient. The Viva viagem that covers all public transportation in the metropolis and surrounding areas, including trains to Sintra and Cascais, is scanned on a magnetic pad to open the gates every time you enter and exit the system.

At one point on our journey, the popular number 28 tram trundles down a ridiculously narrow street. Pedestrians must shelter in doorways to avoid being clipped. If you’re parked on a street where the trams run, you’d better make sure your side mirrors are flattened against your car if you don’t want them unceremoninously ripped off.


Seeing the tangle of overhead cable wires fills me with nostalgia taking me back to when I was a young girl in Cape Town when it used a tram system before buses became its mode of public transportation. In this day and age of plastic, it is a treat to ride these vintage trolleys with their rich, warm aged natural wood.

What with being overwhelmed by graffiti everywhere, I was pleasantly surprised that on the whole the city’s subway train stations were clean and free of vandalism. In keeping with Lisbon’s traditional decor, each station was adorned with miles of beautiful tilework.

It’s handy and cost effective to have the Viva viagem card for the funicular at €1.30 which would otherwise cost over double the price for a round trip. I couldn’t be happier to hop on especially when going uphill.

Taking the train to Belem was pretty easy. The 15 min walk down twists and turns from Bairro Alto to the Cais do Sodré Station is non taxing.  So far, we’ve gotten around on the tram, train and funicular with great ease.  Lisbon’s public transportation sytem is extensive and efficient. We have yet to try out the bus, ferry, and host of other modes.


Whenever we’re in self-catered accommodation in any city in the world, the first thing we do is suss out the local supermarket. The Mini Preco Express was easy to find and serves us well for basics like milk, yogurt, cereal, tea etc. Also very handy are the produce and butcher shops next door. Compared to North America, produce (and food in general) is quite cheap.

We got all these oranges and clementines for just two euros. And they are wonderfully sweet and juicy. I presume they are locally grown as we stumbled upon some orange trees in one of the cross streets. Lisbon’s hilly streets essentially run on a grid system with twists and turns giving way to lots and lots of steps. Happening on spheres of bright orange fruit contrasted against the drabness of winter was a pleasant surprise. And it had to be the day I didn’t have my camera with me! De Nada, as the locals say, it’s close enough for me to go take a snap tomorrow. 

We left sourcing the big supermarket chain, Pingo,  for day two.  I cannot praise the Portuguese people enough, especially the young ones who converse in English quite easily (as many learn it in school) for being friendly and helpful. Buying groceries and getting about has been a breeze.

On our first day here in the neighbourhood of Bairro Alto, we hardly noticed this small inconspicuous cafe a few metres from our doorstep. This has since become my local pit stop to fill up before we hit the road, or should I say, figure out the Lisbon labyrinthe. How can you go wrong with a cup of Café Americano for 70 cents.  I must say, no matter where you go, the Portuguese know their coffee. I’ve yet to experience a crappy cup. Their pastel de nata ain’t bad either. According to the locals, you haven’t tasted the real thing till you’ve visited Belém, home of the pastel de Belém.


Check out my guy having a go at reading in Portuguese!

The Pingo supermarket is a good 20 minute walk from our apartment but it doesn’t feel that far  because there is so much to see along the way.


Laundry hanging from clothes lines suspended from balconies is a common sight. Drying clothing during the rainy, winter season can be tricky. Lucky for us, our apartment has a washer and dryer, so you won’t see my undies dangling from my balcony any time soon!

Our walk along tiled mosaics and cobbled stones takes us to Praça Camões – an important landmark for our bearings. Taking pride of place in the square is the grand statue of Portugal’s illustrious 16th century poet, Luis Camões. Praça Camões serves as the transition zone between Bairro Alto and Chiado, and is also the location of Café A Brasileira where 1920’s and 30’s intellectuals and poets used to hang out. Holding court outside is the bronze statue of another famous poet, Fernando Pessoa – a popular photo op spot. I will take a snap of him when I next pass by.

Praca Camoes on a drab winter’s day

We dropped into the Armazens do Chiado Shopping Centre. It’s fancy facade belied it’s hum drum interior atmosphere. It had familiar global brand shops like Mango, The Body Shop, Starbucks, kitsch “Made in China” shops and a not too bad food court on the second floor. I was pleased to find the Au Natura store to purchase a fragrant candle for the apartment.

Armazens Do Chiado shopping centre

Tomorrow we’ll go on an adventure on the number 28 tram – popular with tourists.


An aerial view: Bye bye icy North America

I haven’t posted for a while. Desculpe. That means sorry in Portuguese. Why am I saying sorry in Portuguese? That’s where I am spending the winter. Where I live in Canada is one gargantuan ice box and I’m sorry but Mother Nature is asking too much of me to live in those conditions!

Our arrival in Lisbon on January 10 had quite an auspicious beginning. After an overnight flight we arrived at 6:30 am. Our Airbnb accommodation check-in time was not till 10:00 am. We thought we’d hang out at the airport until our pick up time. So, off we went to explore  with the expectation that we would freshen up, take a look around the airport shops and so forth.

Alas, the arrivals offered paltry amenities – Starbucks, two or three cafes, a gelato store and a cosmetic shop. This part of the airport had a time warp look  –  about 40 years behind modernity. We hoped the second floor might have more to offer. With two loaded luggage carts, our only choice was to take a rather old and rickety looking elevator.  Things were no better up here – nothing much in the way of stores, nowhere decent to sit and lines of people departing for their destinations. So back to an elevator downward bound.

The doors slid close. We waited for movement, nothing happened, we waited some more, still nothing happened. We pressed the ‘doors open’ button – nothing happened. We saw the word emergency on the panel but couldn’t see any button to press. Michael started banging on the elevator doors and we called out “Help!” but not too desperately or too loudly.

I saw the funny side of things and started giggling. Michael was clearly not amused and I noted the beginnings of anxiety on his face. It took some fiddle faddling to finally discover the scratchy emergency button that blended into the rest of the dull stainless steel panel. From the speaker bit with the tiny holes came a tinny, crackling sound and a man answered in what I understood to be Portuguese. We asked him if he spoke English and couldn’t figure out what he replied. We explained to him that we were stuck in the elevator and the doors wouldn’t open. In the background we heard men’s voices sounding like they were conferring. The man got back to us and said, “Ok. Ok.”

We waited for what seemed forever then the light went out. Fortunately, there was a dim panel light so it was not pitch black dark. We pressed the emergency button again and the voice assured us in mainly Portuguese and some English, enough for us to understand, help was coming. Eventually, we heard metal scratching assuming someone was attempting to pry open the doors.

The doors opened about 30 cm, the elevator jerked and the doors promptly closed again. This happened a couple of times. Some more crowbar work ensued – at last the doors opened fully. By now, the elevator had dropped about 60cm. Discourse took place between us and the onlooking men –  we couldn’t understand what they were saying but we expressed relief. The “crowbar guy” took hold of the front side of my luggage cart and I the handle and together we lifted the cart out. Ditto for Michael and his cart.

Another neon-vested staff member uttered in halted English how problematic that elevator was. Um…have they never heard of an “Out of Order” sign, I wonder. Their laissez faire attitude makes me wonder if this is a normal occurrence.  Our introduction to Lisbon was indeed a panicky one.

Thankfully, our friendly driver, Carlos, more than made up for our mishap. Immaculately groomed and suited, Carlos escorted us to his shiny black Mercedes, giving us an express tour of the city and a quick lesson in ‘how to speak Portuguese like the locals’.

We’ve been in Lisbon three days now and my experience so far has been one of welcoming and extremely helpful locals, many of whom speak English, definitely making it less stressful finding our way around.


I mentioned in the previous post that Carlos, our driver, while taking us to our apartment, gave us an overview of Lisbon’s main points of interest. It was rather a shock to the system when he turned down our street to catch an eyeful of graffitied walls in the entire neighbourhood. I asked Carlo if this was an expression of art to which he replied, “No, it’s just vandalism.”  His mercedes stood in stark contrast to our surroundings.

While Bairro Alto looks frightfully menacing, our Airbnb host, Nuno, assured us that the area was very safe and crime free compared to some North American cities. Still, my heart sank at the prospect of this being my “home away from home” for the next couple of months.

As I try to get my head around living in colourful Bairro Alto, a popular part of town, a young people’s magnet what with Bohemian clubs and nightlife, I’m finding out that Portugal has a controversial outlook toward the graffiti problem.

I learn that this is by no means a new problem. In fact, political murals and graffiti became the voice of protest and propaganda following the April 25, 1974 Revolution. Since then, graffiti seems to have become woven into Portuguese heritage and today is embraced as an art form along with their more conventional tile-clad facades and cobble-stoned street designs.

A point of contention exists among Lisbonites regarding graffiti. Some, like Carlos, think it is wanton vandalism while others think it’s art.  While I agree with Carlo what we have on our travessa is the work of aimless youth gone wild with with spray cans, there is an impressive body of legitimate works of street art by notable local as well as international artists throughout the city. Here are some examples

Even senior citizens got in on the act. Click on this link

In 2008, the Lisbon City Council Department of Cultural Heritage implemented a solution by creating the Galleria de Arte Urbana (GAU), alongside the city’s rehabilitation graffiti removal scheme. The GAU afforded Bohemian street artists designated spaces to express their craft and voices.  The first phase of their campaign was dedicated to win over denizens that resisted and distrusted the project, and to foster trust between the artists and the general public. GAU became recognized for its role as ‘facilitator’ in the world of street art. Attracting a growing number of interlocutors devoted to this project, it is today regarded as an authority on urban art  nationally as well as internationally.

Lisbon’s mayor, Fernando Medina commented, “It is that same capacity of merging visual language and political and social critique that, throughout the decades, has been distinctive to Lisbon’s street art. This perception has been one of the main reasons to establish the very peculiar project GAU (Urban Art Gallery). This project aims at promoting, protecting as well as adding value to street art as an artistic practice setting it aside from the mere acts of vandalism (those being destitute of meaning, empty).”

In May, 2016, Lisbon hosted its first annual Muro Street Art Festival, an open door event to the entire population.
National and international “creators of undeniable prestige” transformed huge ‘wall canvases’to fantastic works of art while onlookers and festival goers took in side shows of live concerts, street entertainment, theatre, puppetry, trail bike, paintball and street food. Well, I’ve learned that Lisbon is the grand daddy of graffiti.


Several people have encouraged me to write a sequel to An Immoral Proposal, the idea with which I’ve been toying. But as usual, the past decade has been unbelievably transient for me. Seven years ago, after a nine-year stint in New Zealand, we returned to North America after grandchildren began to appear on the scene.

Michael and I went back to Ontario, Canada, where we had lived for twelve years before moving on to the United States due to a job transfer. We’ve packed in so much moving and traveling over the past forty one years that it’s become par for the course now. Life has been too frenetic of late and so I’m just slowing down to catch my breath, staying in the now and simply letting creativity take its course.

Having revamped my website, I thought instead of writing a book sequel, I’ll simply write blog posts you all can follow and perhaps a book might materialize out of it. We’ll see.

So, I’ll kick off this post as a retrospective. If you’ve read An Immoral Proposal, you’ll know that my story begins in Cape Town, South Africa and the first move we made was to England to escape apartheid’s draconian Immorality Act law that forbade Michael and me to be together. What was it like for a young woman shy of twenty to leave her family and country behind and venture into pastures new and far away?

I left Cape Town on Christmas Day 1975, my first time on an aircraft. As the British Airways Jumbo 757 hurtled down the runway, my breathing became shallow as my chest tightened with a sense of awe, wonder and anticipation all rolled into one.  “Someone pinch me please, I can’t believe this is finally happening!” I wished I could tell someone, but my traveling companions were sparsely dotted about the fuselage. Being Christmas Day, the flight was only about a third full. Each traveler had a whole rows of seats to her/himself.

Once the aircraft had reached its cruising altitude, the attendants trundled down the narrow aisle with turkey dinners, cranberry sauce, Christmas pudding and brandy sauce – the works, complete with Christmas cracker (a party favour in the English tradition that normally has a charm, joke on a strip of paper and a paper hat.)

Jet travel then was still a novelty – expensive and therefore not yet commonplace.  Those were the days of warm scented towels, real crockery and cutlery and when people dressed up for air travel. Looking back makes me chortle at the most unsuitable gear I wore for a twelve-hour flight.

A fashionable, fine corduroy patch-work patterned dress, chosen with much care and deliberation for the English winter, was my choice.  Matching maroon pantyhose met either dark green or maroon stilettos on my feet.  I can’t remember and I can’t see because the photographer (amateur) cut my feet off!  But really? Who did I think I was donning this get up complete with trendy green Sherlock Holmes style cloak to meet my Dearly Beloved? Elizabeth Taylor?

The downside of flying in 1975 was that the only source of entertainment was audio sound and it didn’t take long to run out of reading material. This was before in-flight movies and today’s plethora of modern electronic devices. The twelve-hour flight from Cape Town to London was brutal, especially not having a soul to talk to. Fortunately, I was able to stretch out across several seats in my row and fall into a restless sleep, at least giving me some respite from infernal boredom. How totally different flying is today!

After disembarking, I teetered nervously on swollen feet toward the baggage claim sign praying that Michael would find me and Heathrow Airport would not swallow me up. My prayer was answered almost immediately as I spotted the unmistakable short, wavy-haired figure of my sweetheart, beside a taller one, heading toward me. At this point, being the hopeless romantic I am, I’d like to report that I kicked off the shackles from my feet, and glided on the air in slow motion toward Michael’s open arms. Instead, I wobbled toward a very relieved looking sweetheart and his companion whom he introduced to me as Eli. This was our first taste of freedom together where the menacing watchful eyes of South Africa’s secret police could not reach us.

Let me end this post by back-tracking to a moment in the flight.  As I was scrolling through the music channels on the armrest of my seat, I stopped at the one piping Karen Carpenter’s rich, mellow alto into my ear, “Love, look at the two of us, strangers in many ways/ We’ve got a lifetime to say, I knew you well/ For only time will tell us so/ and love may grow/ for all we know.

I hugged the small pillow to my chest and let The Carpenters music usher me into realms of celestial bliss. This, to me, was indeed a good omen that things were meant to be.

(Look out for my next post about what it was like for me to be in England with complete freedom of movement where there were no “whites only” signs and Michael and I could eat in a restaurant for the very first time.)


It’s January 2016. I’m in Cape Town escaping the frigid Canadian winter. February is a big month for me – my sixtieth! But where to celebrate? I run it by my sister. (Oh, I should have told you I was born and raised in the Mother City.) We had a shortlist of venues to check out, the first address being 118 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock. Somehow that rang a vague bell in my mind.

The “financial temple” of Barclay’s Bank is now Star Dust, theatrical dinner theatre

As my husband, Michael and I, step out of the Uber cab, we are both gob-smacked. For here we are in front of what used to be Barclay’s Bank. This is where our history together began over forty years ago. The fact that the building looked just the same send memories rushing forward like a tidal wave. Although, then, I paid scant attention to its architecture, I do remember it having the aura of a financial temple in which everyone spoke in hushed tones. I never noticed the lovely exterior pillars, the decorative arches or the single porthole window above the main entrance keeping watch like a cyclops.

Our minds flash back to 1974. Across the road, at 29 Sir Lowry Road, was Highams (Pty) Ltd, the linen factory owned by Michael’s father, where we were both employed.

I can still see myself, a fresh-faced eighteen-year old debtor’s accounts clerk striding to Miss Moore’s office to remind her it was Wednesday – early closing for all banks back then. She of plaid skirt, taupe cashmere twin-set, adorned with a single strand of pearls, usually accompanied me to the bank. I handled deposits for Highams and Edith Moore, the subsidiary company’s banking.

But this particular Wednesday, my sixty-something-spinster, office supervisor footed in sensible shoes, barely glanced up from the documents on her desk, muttering that she was frightfully busy. Could Michael, seated at his father’s desk, escort me to the bank?

That was not the only time the boss’ twenty-seven-year old son stood in as my “body guard.” Through a series of surreal circumstances and against all odds, I, a girl of colour, and the boss’ white son fell in love. How I willed those days into being when Miss Moore would be too busy, and my “Kevin Costner” bodyguard aka Mr. Graham Jr. could stand in for her. The vivid image of a pretty, mini-skirted, teenager, stealing precious moments with her ‘secret’ sweetheart on the dual carriage median waiting for a lull in the traffic, still resonates strongly with me. O my wêreld, this was 1974, the height of apartheid, and we were in deep – how shall I put it – kak.

What used to be the tellers’ counter is now a bar!

Fast forward to 6 February, 2016. We cross over a once familiar, almost forgotten threshold to be greeted by the applause from our table of twenty plus guests as we make a fashionably late entrance. I feel like a time traveler. Yesteryear’s wood-rich counters manned by austere tellers with their rubber stamps pounding the daylights out of documents, had morphed into an exciting vaudeville entertainment joint.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Star Dust – home of the singing waiter! Tonight, not only will you enjoy the wholesome, sumptuous taste of our designer tagine menu and the buzz of our wine bar’s best and brightest, but you’ll also be served and entertained by the shining stars of Cape Town’s immense pool of talented young performers. Make sure you get your waiter’s name – it’ll be written in lights one day!”

What separates the Star Dust from other eateries is that the waiters – excuse me – waitrons in modern parlance, are first and foremost performing arts students. After kicking us off with drinks and starters, they bounce onto the flood-lit stage setting the tone for an amazing theatrical dining experience.

Between serving us their mouth-watering signature dishes -Moroccan stews of aromatic lamb, chicken and seafood oven-baked to perfection in tagine earthen pots, one by one the entertainers strut their stuff on stage. They put on a rousing old-fashioned variety show giving us everything from swing and rock n roll, to opera. I have no doubt seeing these singers and actors’ names in bright lights in the future.

The energy and sizzle in the packed house is palpable. At one point the performing waiters invited a guest or two to dance on the tables. I, together with several other birthday gals and guys, was invited on stage to be serenaded. After a delectable dessert choice and liqueured coffees, the revelry continued well past midnight.

Dancing in the bank

Forty two years ago, if someone had told the eighteen-year old, that in the distant future, the bank would be transformed into a song, dance and dinner joint, where she would be celebrating the best party of her life at age sixty dancing with her “Kevin Costner” bodyguard, she’d have thought “Don’t talk nonsense!”

Michael and I had to leave South Africa in 1975 to forge our married life together overseas. Thank goodness the nightmare of apartheid is behind us. As the famous bard said, “All’s well that ends well.” And our fantastic journey continues. Life is definitely stranger than fiction.