Emirates 'Open Skies' - February 2014
I first read about L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (Arrival of a train at La Ciotat station) and the Lumière brothers many moons ago. Pretty sure it was in a Blue Peter Annual too. Loved the story of terrified early cinema goers fleeing the theatre fearing the train would flatten them. Incidentally, the Lumières (was there ever a better name for photographic innovators?) were pioneers of 3-D along with motion pictures. L'Eden Théâtre is where the story of film began. So, if you're a film-buff and want to see the most iconic location in movie history go here. What's Hollywood anyway?
You can watch the original 1897 footage below. Apparently the Lumières were meeting family coming on holiday so quite a few you'll see are their relatives. To go straight to the Eden Theatre website & take a virtual tour click the button:
My pleasure to interview the amazing Kenny Leck for this month's Emirates Open Skies Magazine. There is a place in the world for independent bookshops and a unique approach can really work. As Kenny says, 'Just don't give up.' If you're in Singapore be sure to drop by or check it out online - www.booksactually.com
Writing about Bio Rio and chatting to Katja stirred some great memories. I used to live just across the bridge and passed by the old cinema many times. It reminded me to brush-up on my Swedish too. Stockholm’s bohemian Southside, or SoFo, is the epitome of quirky Scandinavian cool and an area I love. The story of how Katja and Ellen came to be involved in the re-imagining of Bio Rio captures the laid back yet can-do attitude I remember so well.
The interview appears in this month's Emirates 'Open Skies'.
As a long time fan of books, booze and the Greek islands Atlantis Books on Santorini was something of a dream assignment. When travelling we all find places which call to our hearts and beg us to stay. For me Oia is such a place. Craig and Oliver listened to their hearts and didn’t give up. I hope I’ve done their dream justice.
Lisbon - one of the world's must-see cities and a personal favourite. Throw in wonderful people, a stunning location, superb architecture, incredibly reasonable prices and a weekend bar-crawl like no other and you've got a city-break to be reckoned with. You're probably dead if you don't have a blast in Lisbon.
Top-5 & Travel Tips at the end...
Situated on the brink of the Atlantic Lisbon is a city from which to discover and conquer – which is, of course, exactly what the Portuguese did. From Henry the Navigator, to Vasco da Gama, to the first global circumnavigator Ferdinand Magellan, it seems Portuguese sights were firmly set on the horizon. Indeed, many a modern traveller simply uses Lisbon as a gateway to the beaches and resorts along the coast, such as Estoril, Cascais and Setubal.
PRAÇA DO COMÉRCIO is a great first stop on day one of your visit, a place from which to get your bearings, but not to be done until you have sampled uma bica or two and the breakfast, or indeed anytime, snack of choice for Lisboetas – the delicious pastelnata. Pastelerias, or pastry shops, are everywhere. The half million or so city dwellers dart in and out of them from early morning until late at night fuelling and refuelling on bicas – fiendishly strong espressos – and pastries of all shapes and sizes both sweet and savoury.
No matter how many trams or elevadors you take there’s going to be lots of walking as well. A word to the wise from my wife on that score – high heels in Lisbon are for the brave-hearted. The beautiful polished cobbled streets, though glorious to look at, are a visiting fashionista’s nightmare. This rule, however, does not apply to the native twenty-something female population, who quite literally take everything in their stylish stride.
Before hoofing it around too much, take the time and treat yourself to the best tram ride on the planet – the glorious hair-raising bone-shaking roller coaster that is Tram 28. If you’ve bought your Lisboa Card just hop on. My advice is to take one that’s not too full. If the first you see is jammed just get to the front of the queue and wait for the next. Believe me, you’ll want a window seat to appreciate the full-on experience.
Hotel Britania. Rua Rodrigues Sampaio/00-351-213-155016/heritage.pt.
Serene art deco hotel centrally located on a quiet street just off the Avenida da Liberdade. Dating from the 1940s, stylishly
updated and modernised, yet retaining its original charm. There are 30 spacious beautifully decorated rooms. The bar is a modernist treat. Doubles from about €200.
Brown’s Apartments. Rua daVitória/00-351-218-874128/brownsapartments.com.
Modern self-catering studios in a historic building in the heart of the Baixa area, close to the Rua Augusta and a two-minute
walk from Baixa-Chiado metro station. Excellent location with loads of coffee shops and restaurants nearby. Bang in the middle of Lisbon’s shopping district. Rates from about €100.
Bairro Alto Hotel. Praça Luís de Camões/00-351-213-408288/bairroaltohotel.com.
The building dates from the late1700s, but the hotel is brand new, ultra modern and chic. The roof terrace is a lesson in
decadence, boasting exquisite views over the city down to the Tagus and Ponte 25 de Abril. Location couldn’t be better,
situated as it is at the meeting of the upper district, Bairro Alto, and trendy Chiado. Boasting excellent food, and a
gym - a place to switch off from the world. Prices range from about €250 to €650.
York House. 32 Rua das Janelas Verdes/00-351-213-962435/yorkhouselisboa.com.
In the London Times “Hot 100 best hotels in Europe 2010” this is an affordable gem in a former convent dating back to the
1600s. Located close to the Tagus near the Museu de Arte Antiga in the area of Lapa, York House boasts a four-star
rating and has the feel of an authentic hideaway in the city. Room rates from about €140 to €250.
VIP Executive Suites Eden. 24 Praça dos Restauradores/00-351-213-216600/edenaparthotelvip.com.
Located a stone’s throw from the azulejo-adorned metro station, this is about as central as you can get. Art deco heaven
is the best way to describe the building, and roof pool. Décor is clean and functional – definitely consider this one if travelling with kids. Right beside the Gloria funicular which takes you up to the beautiful Mirador São Pedro de Alcântara. Studios start about €70 per night, apartments from €110.
Cervejeria Trindade. Rua Nova Trindade, Chiado/00-351-213-423506/cervejeriatrindade.pt.
Fresh fish and shellfish of all shapes and sizes, fabulous tender steaks, great range of beer, a good selection of wines, free entrées – all in an ancient monastery turned brewery turned restaurant. The prices are reasonable as borne out by
the restaurant’s consistent popularity. Get there early in the evening to avoid the queues.
Sol Dourado. 19-25 Rua Jardim do Regedor/00-351-213-472570/restaurantesoldourado.com.
Handy first night eating place if staying in Baixa/Chiado, close to Rossio. Friendly service and very reasonable. Entrée of
a huge plate of shrimps was free, the sea bass was very fresh and great value. Not the most picturesque location but
central, just off the main tourist drag. House wine at €4 per half litre.
Bonjardim. 10 Travessa de Santo Antão/00-351-213-427424.
If you’re on a budget or just want to grab an inexpensive plate of nosh this is the place. No frills hearty Portuguese fare – roast chicken highly recommended. Décor is simple and homely, and there are tables outside.
Tavares Rico. 37 Rua da Misericórdia/00-351-213-421112/restauranteavares.pt.
Spectacularly stylish chandelier and mirror-filled Michelin-starred restaurant boasting the title of being the oldest in Portugal. This place will put a dent in your wallet but worth the splurge. Opt for either a la carte, three-course lunch menu for€35 per person or seven-course lunch or dinner menu at €90.
Royale Café. 29 Largo Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro/00-351-213-469125/royalecafe.com.
A very cool modern café/restaurant in chi-chi Chiado. Organic ingredients are used to create Mediterranean dishes and their
own take on fish, steaks, hamburgers and gourmet sandwiches. The courtyard is especially pleasant.
Castelo de São Jorge (St George’s Castle). Alfama.
Originally a Moorish stronghold, from here you get the best view in Lisbon. Hop off the tram at Rua de Santa Justa
and walk up the steep alley and steps. Once there take a wander around the battlements and drink in the vista. When
you’ve finished with the castle and gardens grab the chance to get lost in the winding streets of Alfama below.
Monasterio dos Jerónimos, Belém.
Impressive enough in sheer scale from the outside, once you enter the monastery it's easy to see why this is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The cloisters are breathtaking, particularly when viewed from the upper level. Vasco da Gama’s tomb is here, as is that of the 20th-century writer Fernando Pessoa.
Torre de Belém.
Dating from1515 and built to defend thecity, it has become synonymous with Portugal’s seagoing past. Take the time not only to scale its heights but also venture into the dingy dungeons below for a taste of medieval incarceration.
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art), 9 Rua das JanelasVerdes, Lapa.
Portugal’s biggest museum set in a palace dating from the 17th century and housing priceless masterpieces by artists such as Hieronymus Bosch.
Elevador de Santa Justa. Rua de Santa Justa.
When you first see the elevador, or lift, you may think something is vaguely familiar about it. It is unique but was designed by Gustav Eiffel’s pupil Raul Mesniér. More fantastic panoramas wait at the top as well as a cafe. No better place from
which to see the terracotta roofs of Rossio. Go early to avoid the crowds.
Gen-up on a few basic words of Portuguese. If nothing else it stops you falling into the trap of uttering the occasional bit of Spanish, which tends to go down like a lead balloon. Otherwise stick to English. Grab a Lisboa Card at the airport or when in town. They range in price for one, two or three days and give free public transport, free access to most museums and discounts into many others.
Join the biggest bar crawl in Europe every Friday and Saturday night in the Bairro Alto. Pick a bar, start there and see where you end up. The Miradour São Pedro de Alcântara is a good final resting place – the bar/cafe serves mean mojitos amongst other drinks while young and old carouse until early morn. Word of advice - don’t do this the night before you leave.
This week I'm chatting about my home town. Why? Because it's bloody brilliant and this is the perfect time of year to visit. At the end you'll find a pick & choose 3-Day itinerary. Even if you take in just a few of the suggestions you're guaranteed to have an absolute blast.
Once seen never forgotten - Edinburgh truly is a city like no other. Over the centuries the great and good have waxed lyrical over the Scottish Capital. No surprise then that both the Medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1996.
In Prince Charles’ opinion it is ‘the most beautiful city in Britain’ while Christina Aguilera observed ‘the people here are brilliant’. They’re both right. Edinburgh has the intimate friendly feel of a small town matched with the credentials of a great European City. It is at once awe inspiring and comforting, a city that mirrors the increasing confidence of a proudly independent nation that many would say is on the cusp of breaking away from the United Kingdom. Certainly if Scotland’s wily First Minister Alex Salmond has his way this is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
Edinburgh is a place for the visitor to savour like a fine Single Malt Whisky. Contrasts and nuances greet you at every turn, from the spine-tingling magnificence of Edinburgh Castle dominating the skyline as it looms precipitously on its craggy perch to the radical modernism of the New Parliament building. Welcome to a city and people at once comfortable with and immensely proud of the past while striding boldly into the future.
Birbeck's Brilliant Days:
Balmoral Hotel – traditional hearty Scottish Breakfast - cross the North Bridge – Royal Mile – Edinburgh Castle – Camera Obscura - Lunch - Mary King’s Close – Museum of Childhood – Dunbar’s Close Garden – Bow Bar for ‘Malt o’ the week’ - Witchery Restaurant for the best in Scottish fine dining
New Town & Leith
Breakfast - Princess Street / Princess Street Gardens – Jenners Department Store – National Museum of Scotland – Lunch at Towers roof-top Restaurant – Visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia – Dinner at The Kitchin Restaurant – Drinks at the beautiful Café Royal Bar
Breakfast at Scotsman Hotel Brasserie - Holyrood Palace & Gardens - Arthur’s Seat & picnic lunch from Valvona & Crolla (season dependent) - Forth Road Bridge – Firth of Forth – Cramond village and coastline – The Shore Bar for food, drinks and live music
Hope this has whet the appetite for all Edinburgh has to offer. It's a stunning city, full of friendly folk and incredible things to do and see. Pay a visit - you won't regret it I promise.
Oddly enough demonic deeds and death bring a place to life. We're all gore-mongers at heart. I told my kids this story as we fought our way through throngs of bewildered sweaty tourists in Florence. They gobbled it up with gusto and frankly it saved the day. Well, that and the terrific pizza we had afterwards on the Piazza di Santo Spirito.
Medici and Florence go hand-in-hand. Particularly everyone's favourite Renaissance Prince, good old Lorenzo ('The Magnificent' no less). But Pazzi? Who the hell were that lot?
On Sunday April 26th 1478 Lorenzo de’ Medici (Il Magnifico) and his sickly younger brother Giuliano attended High Mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or as it's more commonly known the Duomo. Guiliano was ill (again) and arrived late having been coerced to attend by a couple of particularly fair-weather pals (as we'll soon discover). When the priest raised the ceremonial host all hell broke lose. A more fiendish signal could not have been imagined. The brothers were attacked by Francesco de’ Pazzi, Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli and two armed priests. Giuliano died almost instantly from multiple stab wounds. Lorenzo was injured but managed to escape his attackers and lock himself in the north sacristy.
The alarm was raised and soldiers loyal to the Medici descended upon the Cathedral. Lorenzo fought his way out and over the coming days what can only be described as a bloodbath ensued. Francesco de’Pazzi initially made good his escape and galloped through Florence calling for his fellow citizens to rise up against the Medici. Sadly for him his plea fell on somewhat unsympathetic ears.
This was no ordinary inter-family medieval feud. Involved in the plot were the King of Naples, His Holiness Pope Sixtus IV and the Archbishop of Pisa Francesco Salviati amongst others. Over the days that followed numerous bodies, including those of Francesco de’ Pazzi, Bernardo di Bandino (see side image - Da Vinci - 1479), and the Archbishop of Pisa would be strung from the top windows of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was rumoured that the Archbishop, while dangling alongside him, sank his teeth into Francesco de'Pazzi's festering flesh before gasping his last. Sporadically corpses would be cut loose and allowed to drop to the crowd below. They were then dragged through the streets, or thrown into the river Arno only to be recovered downstream and brought back to the Palazzo for further mistreatment. Francesco's Uncle Jacopo, the family patriarch and commonly seen as mastermind of this most sordid of episodes, met a particularly gruesome fate. His rotting skull was placed by the door of the cathedral where it was used for many years as a makeshift door-knocker (the kids loved that one).
Here endeth the lesson - don't mess with the Medici.
When you've had enough of death and dismemberment Florentine style try this place: Osteria Santo Spirito - www.osteriasantospirito.it - on the piazza of the same name. Good value & service - wide choice of dishes. Pizza highly recommended. If possible visit Florence early or late in the year. Best explored in the mornings too - then you can relax over a leisurely lunch and rest those weary feet. Skip the queues - pre-book the must-see Uffizi Gallery & others online: www.florence-museum.com
In Spring 2002 Craig and Oliver discovered the magical clifftop village of Oia on the Greek island of Santorini. Two years later they returned complete with motley crew in a van driven from London in pursuit of their dream to open a bookshop. Nine years later Craig is still there and Atlantis Books is thriving. Next summer two of the original gang are getting married on the terrace above the shop. Can dreams come true? Oh yes...
This is my interview with Craig from the October 2013 edition
I was born under a Wandering Star was my favourite song when I was three. Nothing's changed.