Lisbon, Parque das Nações and a visit to the future of the past

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We spent Christmas 2013 in Guangzhou in Southern China. It’s said that the kitchen there expands the definition of what is considered edible. This was apparent on our Christmas dinner as well, which was plentiful, distinctive and not to forget tasty in many parts. Christmas 2014  was celebrated in Portugal, in Lisbon. Sunshine, the charming old quarters, beautiful and hazy views, warm and creamy Belém cakes, clattering trams, rambling streets of Bairro Alto, fado played in the corner of a simple and romantic African restaurant, cones of chestnuts… A Christmas break on the Western edge of Europe and one I’ll remember for sure.

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I’ll write some lines about one special area in Lisbon: Parque das Nações. We spent the day of Christmas Eve in this slightly wannabe futuristic place. The area underwent a massive transformation in the 90’s as it was chosen to be the location of the ’98 World Exhibition. Many of the attractions were built for the Expo. So some futuristic vibes from the nineties guaranteed. Characteristic to the area are peculiar public art works, architecture aiming to look progressive, high and big buildings and geometric shapes.

How to get there? The area can be reached with the red metro line, from the centre to Gare do Oriente in a bit less than half an hour. We started the day with a walk along the riverfront promenade and passed for example the sculptures of Jorge Vieira.

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We marveled at the looong Ponte Vasco da Gama, the longest bridge in Europe, that vanished into the skyline. The view was soothing and a bit dreamlike. We continued admiring it with Christmas cocktails at the Torre Vasco da Gama, in the bar of  it’s fine hotel. The tower is right by the riverside.  The mood of that day was rather special and tranquil. A child played in the park with his parents, the weather was really pleasant with around 14 degrees, the cabins of the cable car, the Téleferico, stood still and there was some traffic on bridge crossing river Tajo. It was quite difficult to believe that the water belonged to a river and not the sea.

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We wanted to visit the Ocenario, the second largest aquarium in Europe, but weren’t sure if we could as it was Christmas Eve. But then we saw from a distance tiny figures coming out from the insides of this gigantic building. It really was huge; it contains seven million liters of seawater. Huge and captivating with sharks, sea otters, penguins, puffins, jellyfish, seahorses and many other sea creatures. The tour we did was interesting and also educational. The conservation of nature perspective was really on display there on the info boards.

No concerts nor ballets that evening as the venues were closed but the wonders of the sea satisfied our marvelling needs. We strolled back to the metro stop in the late afternoon via the Caminho da Agua: a wooden board walk with mosaics, fountains and palmtrees.

IMG_4856_2A tree trunk and yours truly, or the other way around. There just might be a reason the picture is cropped this way. There often is.

I’ll save other Lisbon treats for another post, but for those of you who are considering Lisbon’s suitability as a Christmas destination, I’d say go for it. During our stay we got to do everything we desired and there were certain Christmas time perks as well: for example there was a Christmas market by the Praça do Comércio right in the centre and in the evening you could get a glass of red wine from the wooden stands and watch the sunset by the river with other couples. 

I would write some critical remarks as well, but the fact is, there aren’t that many things to critically remark on.  As one word of warning: the air in the old trams is not good at all and mind you that we were there in December, when it’s not even hot. The price level was a bit higher than I expected, but you can get for example a tasty dinner for two with drinks and ambient music with around twenty euros in the narrow streets of Alfama.

This Christmas it might be Finnish lake fish in the Christmas dinner table with loved ones instead of Bacalhau treats, but I would really like to go to Portugal again.