let’s talk lisbon

An absolutely beautiful city — Lisboa, Portugal. That is without doubt. Viewpoints galore overlooking red roofed buildings, the Tagus River — a river so wide it feels more like a lake or even the sea — hills and more hills, ancient architecture, cobblestone streets, tiled buildings, old fashion street cars . . . everything you would expect from a picturesque European city. And it’s small — just 800,000 population (similar to San Francisco) in it’s city center so easy to absorb. It’s for now, affordable as far as European cities go which makes it a hot destination. And that is where the city lost me just a bit. Even in late October, it was full of tourists. And when i say full — I mean everywhere, tourists walking without regard, back pack laden, down every street, every alley, speaking every language. I began to wonder if it was possible to have an authentic Lisboan experience. And I wondered even more what it must be like at the height of summer tourism season — my guess is a place i wouldn’t enjoy very much.

Not to say that I didn’t partake in tourist activities. Of course I did. The first thing I did after a quick shower was hop a Tuk Tuk for a tour around the old part of the city to get acclimated to the area where I was staying. Tuk Tuks are an easy way to get around the most hilly parts of the city and the drivers are well versed in history. So a quick hour or two gives you the basics. I did learn from my driver that what started as a single company with 9 Tuk Tuks a few years back, is now a competitive business of hundreds of Tuks Tuks vying for parking spots at all the best viewpoints and jamming the narrow streets all over the city. I even witnessed a Tuk Tuk robbery where a motorcycle wizzed between lanes of stopped traffic reaching into Tuk Tuks taking driver’s money as they went. When tourism is high so, unfortunately, is theft.

I also scheduled a food tour for my first afternoon. Often one of my favorite type of tours in any city, this one did not disappoint. And to be honest, I would never have known where to go in this city for authentic food just walking up and down the streets. To me, everything looked touristy in Alfama, a neighborhood where throngs of tourists were wandering the streets, souvenir shops abound and little old ladies sell low quality Cherry Liqueur (Ginja) off card tables down every alley. But Ruthy (pictured above) and her husband, guides extraordinaire, took our small group of six to a series of tiny little, family owned businesses tucked away in places I never would have found where we tasted cod delights, sardines, olive oils, cheese, sausage, desserts, coffee, beer, wine, quality cherry liqueur — I was happy, full and drunk for most of the afternoon. I promised Ruthy I wouldn’t share her secrets but I will say this — take the tour and indulge your inner tourist in a good way. You’ll also get a healthy dose of sights and history along the way.

I was in Lisbon for a conference and so happened upon my most favorite of places by happenstance — The Foundation Champalimaud. I liken it to the Portuguese Salk Institute. A biomedical research facility, housed in a modern architectural setting along the river at the far end of Belem where most tourists don’t venture. Not only is the building beautiful, with a stunning central water feature, there is a nearly hidden, small amphitheater overlooking the river that is as spiritual a space as I have come across in quite some time. I could have sat in that amphitheater for hours (and very nearly did), soaking up the sun, taking in the view and contemplating life. Bring a picnic or enjoy lunch next door on the balcony of the center’s cafeteria which is open to the public.

From here you are well poised to take in the Belem sights with the rest of the tourists — a jaunty walk along the river back towards town and away from the sun thankfully, takes you past the Belem Tower, The Monument to the Discoveries, The Maat (another stunning piece of modern architecture with a roof viewpoint not to be missed), The 25th of April Bridge, The Jerónimos Monastery. Then cross over the roadway to the center of Belem where there is an odd collection of museums on various subjects and the famous Pasteis de Belem — the original home of  Portuguese egg tarts which are honestly, worth the hype and the wait in line!

And you never know when you might look down an alley along the way and see a fun, modern take on tile art.

If only the sun weren’t cutting the artwork in half for better viewing. But if you like what you see, these tiles are part of a collection available for sale at a little family run shop whose grandfather bought out stock of closing tile factories in the 1960’s giving them a collection of locally made tiles that are simply beautiful and a far cry from the typical reproductions sold in every souvenir and antique shop in the city.

Like always, I try to find the things that are a bit more unique in a city as I am not a good or typical tourist by nature. I don’t know if I succeeded in Lisbon or if it’s even possible. But I’m happy to share more about my finds in this beautiful city here and in subsequent posts.

Helpful Links:

Eco Tuck Tours, Lisboa
Several standard 2-3 hour tours available or custom tours for $60/hr
Easy to book online in advance (recommended) or hire a Tuk Tuk in any major tourist venue

Treasures of Lisboa, Food Tours
Book through Ruthy’s website directly (link above) or on Air BnB Experiences
Twice Daily, Mon-Sat $67 US

Champalimaud Foundation/Center for the Unknown
Avenida Brasília,1400-038 Belem, Lisbon

MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture & Technology)
Av. Brasília, Central Tejo 1300-598 Belém, Lisboa
11-7 PM except Tuesday

Cortico & Netos, Tile Store
Calçada de Santo André 66, 1100-022 Alfama, Lisboa,
Monday to Saturday from 10h-13h / 14h-19h

Tile Rooster Artwork: Down a little alley about a block east of Pasteis De Belem

Pasteis De Belem
Rua de Belém, 1300 – 085 Belem, Lisboa
Open Daily from 8-11

weekend agenda — rain room LA

Rain RoomNow open for viewing at LACMA, the famous Rain Room exhibit by London based artist collective Random International. Walk through a perpetual downpour without getting wet! This amazing technology senses the body and stops the rain from falling in your vicinity while it continues to pour all around you. People have stood in line for hours to experience the exhibit in other cities.You can see it with timed tickets now through March 16, 2016 here in LA — but still expect a wait. $30 includes general admission to the museum. Buy tickets here.

image: Jane Hu

weekend agenda: frank gehry

This weekend or any weekend between now and March 20, 2016 you can get up close and personal with some of the many many models representing the work of architect Frank Gehry. It’s like a wander through some sort of miniature land of the future where nary a right angle exists and buildings are more like super-sized sculptures than buildings.

IMG_5239Yes, this is a model of a building, one that actually got built. And what’s nice about the show, videos of the built work accompany many of the models so you can see how it actually came to life, how it scales and relates to a real environment.

Frank’s work is nothing if not stunningly emotional. Arresting even, especially in contrast to our mostly rectilinear world. In fact, i think that juxtaposition is what gives this work it’s power.

At 86 years old, there will only be so many more Frank Gehry buildings to be built. Although there are plenty in the works as evidenced by the show’s room of projects in progress punctuated by an image of the architect’s office — a sea of models:

Office shotWhether you are a fan of “object” buildings or not (admittedly some are more successful than others) there is no denying the genius of this man. It is well worth the $25 price of admission to sneak a peek into his world. And most interesting to hear in his own words and those of other creative geniuses across a wide range of disciplines, how and why he does what he does in a captivating film by Sydney Pollack. On the day i went, there were more people crammed into the little corner where this film is projected than viewing the plethora of models that make up the rest of the show. Say what that may about the show as a whole, just go. And then, because we are lucky in LA to be surrounded by a great many of his built works, take a drive around the city and see the buildings in person.

For tickets and more information on the show visit: LACMA.org

bottom image courtesy LACMA

stamp mania

Rudolph StampsSo I went to the unveiling event for the 2014 Rudolph Holiday Stamp Collection and what I discovered was the amazing Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Why is it that we never take advantage or know about these wonderful places right under our noses?

I honestly never would have thunk to visit the Postal Museum had I not been invited to this event by a talented design firm I employ often whose principal sits on the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee. And as luck should have it, not only were we the first ones able to purchase the new Rudolph stamps (aren’t they adorable?) but we also got an unexpected private tour of the museum’s William H. Gross wing by the museum director himself.

stamp gallery19 Million dollars and I can’t recall how many years to make this gallery come to life. And it is a real treat! Beautifully designed, it highlights stamps and the history of post in the United States and around the world, in ways that are interesting to both the avid collector and your average kid (I put myself in the latter)

  • Did you know that Franklin Roosevelt, an avid stamp collector, used to design his own stamps, supplying hand drawn sketches to the postmaster general to create?
  • Did you know that John Lennon was a stamp collector as a kid? The museum owns his collection complete with little mustaches drawn on the queen’s image and all.
  • Did you know that Amelia Earhart funded her flights by carrying mail on board and signing the letters?

You could spend hours and hours in this museum — for real! Featured items on display include the very first stamp in the world. a letter dating back to the silk road, a letter posted to John Hancock on July 4, 1776, a letter posted on the moon and so much more. But the real gems are in hundreds of pull out displays showcasing more stamps, artwork and history than you could ever possibly get through. A reason to go back again and again.

American Gallery moon mail Interactive DisplayOne little tidbit that I loved learning from the director was about the beautiful window graphics that line the 18 windows across the front of the building — printed scrims of  super large scale stamps that tell the history of America. Being a historic building nothing can be touched or changed without permission of government committees, in this case 3 different committees. Instead of simply asking permission which would assuredly garner 3 no’s, the director put a slew of stamps on the table and asked, “If you were going to pick the stamps to tell the American story, which stamps would you pick?” — and suddenly these government officials were engaged and boom, 3 yeses! Drive by at night and see the scrims lit up across the face of the building and you’ll marvel at their beauty.

Stamps are nothing if not beautiful. So celebrate their beauty and history with a visit to the Postal Museum on your next visit to Washington, DC.

images courtesy the USPS and The National Smithsonian Postal Museum

getting to know julia

julia_childFrom time to time, something will spark an interest in me to read up on someone or something and learn as much as I can. Several years ago, watching The Tudors television show sparked a small obsession with Henry VIII and I found myself reading up on his dynasty for months (The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George is one of the best novels I have ever read as a result). More recently, watching the film Julie & Julia again for the I don’t know how many-th time, I decided I should probably read the book on which half the movie was based — My Life in France. As interesting as it was to hear Julia’s story in her own words, what struck me most in reading this book was how one consciously starts to plan for the end of life as they age — in Julia’s case, placing her ailing husband in a home to be cared for, closing up their house in France for the last time, deciding to write her story . . . This innocent little book certainly made me think in ways that surprised me.

And this book lead me to another — As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. An amazing collection of over 200 letters between Julia and her friend/self appointed book agent chronicling their friendship, the reality behind Julia’s major oeuvre, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as well as life’s daily trials and tribulations for two strong minded housewives in the mid-twentieth century. Letters were their way of getting to know one another as they didn’t actually meet for several years after the correspondence began, so it is a very revealing glimpse into a truly special relationship.

Julia Child ImagesAnd that was all it took for me to be smitten with Julia. One movie, two books and to cap it off (just like in the movie) . . . a trip to the American History Museum this past weekend to see Julia’s real life kitchen in person. Small and chock ‘o block full of well-loved kitchen gear it’s a snapshot of American life, a great American life . . .

Julia Child Kitchen

weekend agenda

mazeInside the National Building Museum in Washington, DC you can feel what’s it’s like to be a mouse in a maze. An urban take on the classic corn maze, this plywood structure is oodles of fun for kids or about 4.5 minutes of distraction for adults. Don’t get me wrong it’s a fun activity. But I fault the design for it’s dipped center which while it makes for great views and a social media hot spot, once you reach that point in the maze the way out is clearly visible and the challenge is over. But super fun to watch patrons from above so be sure to venture up to another floor and look down on the activated structure. At $16 a head, it is a bit pricy but you get some added value with the tickets that are all puzzles in their own right — a nice little touch.

ticketsThrough September 1, 2014.

Note: the gift shop at the National Building Museum is very nice with a great selection of gifts, books, toys and more.

three great masters, one great day

The Modern_AndoThe Kimball_ KahnAmon Carter_JohnsonAndo, Kahn and Johnson. The Modern, The Kimball and The Amon Carter museums, respectively. All located in Fort Worth, Texas a stones throw from one another. Each one a masterpiece. And now, you get a fourth for the price of three with a new building by Renzo Piano recently opened as an extension to the Kimball.

I thought I’d died and went to heaven. Who cares about the art — although taking in a little Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, Francis Bacon and Donald Judd always makes me smile (a true modernist at heart) — the buildings are what I came for.Details_3museumsEven the 90 degree heat couldn’t deter me. I could have sat on the concrete loungers, looking back at the silent power of three glass pavillions seemingly floating on water at the Modern all day. But that would have meant not sitting under the shade of a vaulted portico at the Kimball taking in the echo of cascading water and visitors footsteps as they navigated the grove of holly trees that act as transition from lawn, to courtyard, to vaulted building.

The surprise of the day was the Amon Carter Museum. The first built in the area back in 1961. The original museum, a small but arresting monolithic structure, sits up on a hill before a stunning green space with views of Dallas in the distance. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of Acropolis reference. Quite the stretch for the Western art collection housed inside but true to form for architect Philip Johnson who also designed the 2001 expansion on the back side.

views_3museumsIf you are ever in doubt about the power of architecture on the soul, watch the documentary My Architect by Nathanial Kahn, son of Louis Kahn who designed the Kimball Art Museum (along with his mistress Harriet Patterson, mother of Nathanial). If ever a piece of film has moved me more I cannot recall. I wept and wept — not because of the personal story of an illegitimate son piecing together the life of an absent father who had three separate families and died unidentified in the men’s room at Penn Station — but at the sight of magnificent building after magnificent building. True artworks juxtaposing the geometries of built form and nature, in locations all around the world. All by one great master whose calling it was in life to build buildings. Great and powerful buildings. Buildings that will move you to tears.

will you marry me?

i don’t think I’ll ever get enough of Melbourne. If only it weren’t so damn far away. And if only it were possible to move there . . . marriage anyone?  Whilst I wait for that marriage proposal, here are the highlights from my most recent visit:

Stay

My neighborhood of choice this time around was South Yarra. The suburb with it all. Leafy streets with beautiful homes. Shops and restaurants galore. Every Melbournian establishment it seems, has an outlet in S. Yarra. Just two train stops from the city and bordered by some smaller more creative-type neighborhoods, you get the best of all worlds. It’s an easy spot from which to get everywhere. But then again, that’s one of the things I love about Melbourne in general — it’s so easy to get to every nook and corner.

The Lyall Hotel, 14 Murphy Street, South Yarra

LyallA small boutique hotel on a side street with a spa, a lovely lobby bar and friendly service. I’m not sure it’s everything it thinks it is but it was a pleasant place to stay with standard rooms that include small living rooms and kitchens making it more apartment-like than hotel like. A plus in my book. Best feature: Heated bathroom floors.

See & Do

Made Beauty Space, 39 Church Street, HawthorneMadeBeautySpaceDo not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to Made for the bestest, most relaxing facial experience of your life. Enough said!  Ok, maybe not enough. It’s more than a facial. It’s sheer heaven in a heated chair — face, back, feet all get tended to and you’ll be simply glowing & floating on air when you leave.

Ian Potter Museum, Swanston Street between Elgin & Farraday, CarltonTimoty CookA nice little museum that is part of the University of Melbourne showing everything from antiquities to contemporary art. Through July 2014, you too can see The World is Not a Foreign Land exhibit — an engaging look at 6 indigenous artists from different regions with a decidedly contemporary flair.  Well worth seeing. Free admission.

The Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson Street, Carlton — If you’re interested in learning about the history of Melbourne or seeing a living rainforest, or one of any sort of traveling international exhibitions, or even catching an IMAX movie this is your place. A large modern structure that sits in contrast to the World Heritage Royal Exhibition Center across the courtyard (open for tours when not housing an exhibition). $10 Admission.

Eat & Drink

David’s Country Shanghai, 4 Cecil Place, Prahan — Traditional Chinese dishes & dim sum served family style in a beautiful space designed by one of Melbourne’s top interiors firms. White washed walls, a stack of blue and white bowls and a container of chopsticks on every table sets a decidedly casual and traditional tone. Unusual dishes like beef made with tea leaves dot the menu. I was there late on a quiet rainy night but can only imagine this place is loud and buzzing most days. Highly recommended and they deliver too.

Tuck Shop Takeaway, 273 Hawthorne Road, Caulfield North — One train, two trams, nearly an hour in the pouring rain to get there. Completely and totally worth the journey. A tiny little burger joint with two tables, 3 counter seats and a school house theme right down to the Principal’s Office sign that leads to the back room. When I arrived it was empty. When I left there was a line out the door, rain and all.

IMG_4044 Voted one of the top burgers in Melbourne, they are large, juicy, messy (I must have used 50 napkins) and truly fantastic served with twice cooked fries and house made catchup. And for dessert, my favorite thing I ate this trip: Jaffa (orange chocolate candy) flavored soft serve ice cream.

D.O.C., 326 Lygon Street, Carlton — I tried to get a table on my last trip with no luck. This time, we nabbed the last table in the very back corner late on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. And now I know why it is always so crowded. Simply the best bowl of pasta I have ever had. The Carbonara was good . . .carbonaraBut the Pomodoro was to die for . . .

DOC Pomodoro Good to the very last drop!

done pastaPinnochio, 152 Toorak Road, South Yarra — In my notes I wrote “Pizza close to the hotel seemingly California Pizza Kitchen-esque.” So imagine my surprise when the pizza was authentic and really really good. With so much on offer in the neighborhood, don’t write this place off.

Jimmy Grants, 113 Saint David Street, Fitzroy — The hippest little restaurant in town just off Smith Street in groovy Fitzroy. And it just so happens it was the cheapest meal of my entire trip and among the best. GaziYummy souvlaki and refreshing feta, cucumber, mint & barley salad for two, $24. I could eat here every day, especially with my favorite gelato shop around the corner to cap off the meal.

Bowery to Williamsburg, 16 Oliver Lane, CBD — Bialy, Lox & Cream Cheese only fancier:  Beet and green olive bialy, dillweed schmear, cold smoked salmon with maxima (greens), capers and red onion. Everything I like but I wish I had substituted a bagel. Bowery to WillimasburgDespite the not so authentic bialy, the combo was lovely in this New York inspired sandwich place tucked down an alley in the CBD. Their version of a Reuben is the number one seller and the portions are substantial by Aussie standards but thankfully, not in that NYC mile high sandwich kind of way. Part of the ongoing American craze sweeping the city but definitely with an Aussie twist.

La Miel Et La Lune, 330 Cardigan Street, Carlton — A sweet little breakfast joint in Carlton full of students and faculty from the nearby university. I don’t know what it is but i always crave a good bowl of granola when I travel. This muesli hit the spot served with poached fruit and yogurt (although I’ll never understand the need for both milk and yogurt that seems to be standard in this part of the world). mieletlalune The kind of place you can cozy up to your computer and nurse a good coffee for awhile.

 Shop:

It may seem like a lot of eating went on and that would be the truth. But what would be a trip to Melbourne without a little shopping as well. Having never ventured into Australia’s department stores before, this time I hit up both Myer and David Jones just to see what they were all about — typical department store fare. The big news in town was the opening of H&M that has taken over the entire GPO building. Just a few days in, lines were around the block with security galore.

When you are in the neighborhood of Made Beauty Space for your facial (because you should go) there are two notable entries to check out: The Woodsfolk (gifts & homewares) & Maiike Store (baby gifts & a small collection of womenswear).

Country Road — with shops around the city including in the department stores, there was a large flagship just down the road from my hotel at the corner of Toorak Road & Chapel Street. I’ve been partial to the home goods in the past but this time around, I spent some time in the apparel department. Style at affordable prices for both men and women. Kind of like the Jcrew of the Southern Hemisphere. Don’t forget, seasons are reversed Down Under.

Country Road FallGreville Street, Prahan — This little area full of small independent shops, is a delight to just walk around and peruse. A nice alternative to the more chain ridden main drag, Chapel Street. Great cafes as well. The Fitzroy of the south with many second locations here in Prahan.

Burch & Purchase Sweet Studio, 647 Chapel Street, South Yarrasalted caramel

A sweet shop with fantastical creations it is also a place to pick up the perfect food gifts for those back home.

Pictured are the two things they are most famous for: Salted Caramel sauce and gold bullion bar chocolates filled with said salted caramel.

There are oodles of fancy chocolates, jams and spreads, freeze dried fruit packets and fluffy meringues to choose from. That is if you can resist the lure of the pastry case. Oh la la!

Et Al, 186 Farraday Street, Carlton — Every trip, I make one great find and Et Al was it this time. Unstructured, Asian-influenced, high style clothing designed locally by a male/female duo. The minimalist shop is located in a small stone cottage you could easily walk by without noticing, so keep an eye out.

Et AlMany of the pieces can seemingly have a lot of fabric but look exquisite on. Other pieces that seem simple can be overwhelming. It really depends on your body. So try, try, try things on. I nearly tried on the entire shop but in the end settled on a coat and a sweater. A special shout out to the shop manager, Silvie, who was extremely patient with me and most entertaining to talk to. She graciously threw in a beautiful scarf as a birthday gift to me. How is that for an unexpected treat?  And she’s made a customer for life. I’ll definitely be back on my next visit.

Of Note:

Phong Chi Lai CatalogEt Al also carries beautiful hand made shoes by Vietnam transplant, Phong Chi Lai. Expensive but works of art. In fact, he recently was included in the the much heralded Melbourne NOW show at the National Gallery Of Victoria. Rumor has it he may have moved to Tasmania and quit the shoe biz. But talent like this is hard to walk away from – or maybe that is wishful thinking on my part. I’m saving my pennies just in case.

wunderkin

In doing research for my recent travels down under, I came across some really talented kids doing super creative things that kind of blew me away. I love when young people are encouraged to explore their talents. And I love, even more, how the internet brings these talents to light all the way around the world. Keep it up kids there is a bright future ahead . . .

Melie's CakesFirst up is an amazingly talented baker and cake decorator in Auckland, NZ, who has a thriving business going at 15 years of age. Just look at her cakes and you’ll understand why. Since I was celebrating my birthday down under I was seriously tempted to order one of her creations that go for $70 a pop but since I was traveling alone, I thought better of that idea. And while she is partial to baking, her culinary skills don’t end there. She won a gourmet hamburger contest that brought her to the attention of some Master Chef judges and she has even worked on the line in one of their restaurants as a result. By sheer happenstance, I crossed paths with her mother while in Auckland (it really is a serendipitous world) and she is extremely proud and supportive of her daughter’s endeavors. I’d say with her talents and that support, this young lady is well on her way to a spectacular career. Visit melieskitchen.com

LuLu's PotteryNext is a 10 year old — 10 YEARS OLD! — from Australia who makes beautiful pottery well beyond her years. I remember doing pottery at summer camp at that age and let me tell you, it is not easy to make something centered let alone beautiful. It really is an art. And to master it at that young age . . . I’m impressed to say the least.

Student Show 14Lastly, the Melbourne Museum was hosting an annual show of student work while I was there. Everything from films, to furniture & lighting, graphic design, web design, and more. The very fact that design is so supported in the secondary schools was wonderful to see. The idea that young students between the ages of 15-17 could have something on display at a big city museum was highly impressive and as one exhibitor’s proud father put it, “A really big deal!” I agree wholeheartedly.