Lisbon photo essay

A Lisbon photo essay to round off my series of entries from Lisbon.

The last week in June, Mrs SC and I visited Lisbon – my first visit, her second. In my two most recent blog entries here I focused on a couple of of Lisbon’s “sights” and their history. First off was the Alfama, the oldest part of the city dominated by the Castelo de Sao Jorge. That article retold the story of the 1147 Siege of Lisbon. Here’s a photo of the castle that I didn’t fit into that article.

Lisbon photo essay: Baixa - Looking up to the CastleIn my second article I wrote about our visit to the Museu de Marinha in Belém and how the museum presents the story of the Portuguese Age of Discovery… and what it leaves out. We didn’t spend the whole day in the Maritime Museum, though, and here’s a picture of an ancient fig tree in the Jardim Botânico Tropical, which turned out to be another good place to rest in the shade.

Lisbon photo essay: Belem - fig tree in the tropical botanical gardens
My final article was going to be about the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, but I’ve had second thoughts. I love history, but I know I can run on a bit. The last couple of entries have been rather wordy, so today’s will be mostly photos. I’ll hold the earthquake over to a later date – or perhaps till after I revisit Lisbon, which I’m tempted to do. We did have a very good time.

But first, allow me just a little more history. I took the next photo on the morning of our first day. We were out scouting for breakfast, walking down the tree-shaded Avenida da Liberdade  when I saw this. As you probably remember from school, Christopher Columbus “discovered America” in 1492.
The Discovery of America 1472 - Avenida da Liberdade

  • The aboriginal peoples of America actually discovered it tens of thousands of years earlier,
  • Leif Eriksson was the first certain European visitor and he was there around the year 1000,
  • Columbus probably went to his grave believing he’d actually found India,
  • The Waldseemüller map – the first to actually name the continent America – didn’t appear till 1507.

Still… 1472?

I really thought it was a mistake. The sort of thing that happens sometimes when street painters doze on the job and paint SLOM on a road where they ought to have painted SLOW. But, no. It seems there’s this theory in Portugal that a Portuguese explorer called João Vaz Corte-Real discovered the New Land of the Codfish (Terra Nova do Bacalhau) in 1472. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, you Spanish and American Columbus lovers!

And while you’re doing that, enjoy these photos from a tram ride we took through Lisbon’s Bairro Alto district.

Lisbon photo essay: Tram 28 at Martin Montiz
Above is tram number 28 at the Martin Moniz stop.

Below is from the interior of a number 25 tram heading up to Bairro Alto.

Lisbon photo essay: Inside tram 25

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - street scene - reading the news
Above: Two gentlemen in the shade by a news kiosk – taken from the tram window.

Below: On the phone with the washing – also taken from the tram window.

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - street scene - on the phone

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - trams 28 and 25 passing
Above: A number 25 and number 28 tram passing on a corner in Barrio Alto. In places the tram lines are so steep I wonder how the trams manage to climb and not slide back.

Below: A Lisbon street seen through a tram window.

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - Through the tram windowThat was how we spent the morning of our final day in Lisbon. For a complete change, we took the metro to the ultra-modern district Parque das Nações and spent the afternoon at Lisbon’s Aquarium. The Oceanário de Lisboa is probably the most child-friendly place we visited on our trip. It was pretty entertaining for two older people without kids too. Here’s one of the sharks.

Lisbon photo essay: In the aquarium - shark
And here is a panorama of silhouettes transfixed by the main ocean tank.

Lisbon photo esay: In the aquarium - silhouettes 2
A final couple of pictures to round this off.

Lisbon photo essay: Fado performance 2
Above: The first evening we went to a Fado bar…

Below: …and I had a sangria. Cheers!

John, sangria and Fado
So that was our visit to Lisbon. A very packed schedule, but we had a great time and certainly hope to return one of these days. On the way to the airport the taxi driver asked where we’d been and what we’d seen and then said: “Oh, but you haven’t see Sintra. Sintra is the best.” (It turned out Sintra was where he lived.) So we promised to put Sintra on our list for the next time.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Open day at the EU Commission

An open day at the European Commission? How exciting! No? Oh come on, try at least to show a little enthusiasm!

After more than a year as a Brussels resident, it was high time to visit one of the centres of EU power in this, Europe’s capital (three weeks a month). High time not least because, judging by the noises coming out of Britain, it may be my last year as a British and an EU citizen.

Every year in May, Europe celebrates. There’s something for (more or less) everyone this month: the Second World War came to an end on 8th May 1945 (9th May if you are east of Berlin); the Council of Europe was founded in 1949 by the Treaty of London and celebrates that event every May 5th; and the EU celebrates on May 9th because that was the date of the Schuman Declaration in 1950, regarded as the seed of the European Union.

Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany.

Robert Schuman, then French Foreign Minister

The celebrations spread through the month. This year the Headquarters of the European Commission in the Berlaymont building at the Schumann roundabout here in Brussels held a family fun open day last Saturday. (It wasn’t in fact billed as “family fun”, just as an “open day”, but there were definitely families there, and many seemed to be having fun.)

Personally I found it a curious mix of the genuinely interesting, quite entertaining and deadly boring. Many of the Directorates-General and Service sections of the Commission were represented, but it was clear which had put thought and effort into what they were doing there. The stalls run by everyone connected to science and languages had crowds of visitors and eager participants. Some of the other stalls were staffed by people whose enthusiasm and ability to connect with the general public was lukewarm at best.

There should be more of these events (with engaged organisers), and they should be taking place in schools and public forums across the EU on a weekly basis. Perhaps if that had been happening in the UK the last 40 years we wouldn’t be where we now are. Or at least the British public would be better able to make an informed decision. As it is, most of the propaganda I hear from both sides of the Brexit debate at present seems bloated, ignorant and designed to prey on fear.

But let us not dwell on the negative. Here are some photos from Saturday’s open day.

EU Open Day: Computer coding for visitors
Computer coding for visitors
EU Open Day: Our environmental future Europe
Our environmental future Europe
EU Open Day: In the Schumann Conference Room
In the Schuman Conference Room simultaneous translators show off their stuff
The author - a serious selfie in the Schuman Conference Room
The author – a serious selfie
EU Open Day: Families together in the Schumann Conference Room
Families together in the Schuman Conference Room
EU open day: Panorama in the atrium
Open day panorama in the atrium of the Berlaymont building
What would make you leave your home country?
What would make you leave your home country? The stickers say: Job, Study, War, Love, Curiosity, Putin, Chavez…
EU Open Day: Camera bank
This camera bank was presented by EU Research and Innovation
In front of the cameras
You got a white coat and some green fluid in a test tube and then stood in front of the cameras…
…and they took a photo and turned it into a 180 degree animation.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Time travel – the Brussels Atomium

If you’ve ever fancied experiencing time travel, I recommend a visit to the Brussels Atomium.

Supposedly modelled on the crystal structure of an atom of iron, enlarged 165 billion times, the Atomium is partly a building, partly a sculpture. Taken all together, it is a remarkable construction. With nine stainless steel balls 18 meters in diameter, massive connecting tubes and supports, it stands 102 meters to the top of its antenna, which also does duty as a flagstaff.

Time travel - the Atomium time machineIt broods on the horizon north from Brussels city centre, but you can only really see it when you are up high or when looking in the right direction from the trains to and from the International Airport. Until my recent visit, I’d never seen it up close, so I was a little unsure whether I would be able to find it when I exited the metro station at Heysel. I needn’t have worried. It’s very obvious.

Time travel - 1958 World FairIt was originally erected for Expo 58, the Brussels World Fair in 1958. It stands now as a monument to the future. To the future as conceived in the 1950s, that is. A future familiar from the covers of magazines like Popular Mechanics or Galaxy Science Fiction, or SF film posters and stills. A future from when atomic power seemed like an unalloyed Good Thing.

Clockwise from left: The Atomium under construction - a French magazine, front cover of Amazing Stories c. 1960; still from Forbidden Planet, 1956;  front cover Practical Mechanics 1954; still from The Shape of Things to Come 1936; front cover Galaxy Science Fiction 1958
Clockwise from left: The Atomium under construction – a French magazine, front cover of Amazing Stories c. 1960; still from Forbidden Planet, 1956; front cover Practical Mechanics 1954; still from The Shape of Things to Come 1936; front cover Galaxy Science Fiction 1958

Time travel - Atomium SpheresThe Atomium and I are roughly the same age. It opened along with the Expo 58 in April 1958, while I put in an appearance in July of the same year. My childhood was imbued with the same futuristic designs that inspired the Atomium’s creators, design engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak. And in all probability the Atomium also inspired the future art of the 1960s.

Time travel - Atomium sphereWhen I talk about time travel in respect of visiting the Atomium, I’m talking partly about travelling back in time to the futuristic designs that thrilled my childhood and illustrated my earliest experience of science fiction. I got something of the same sensation when I visited the Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum in London last year.

Time travel - Atomium interior 2The Cosmonauts exhibition took the story from the fantastic visions of the original space pioneers to the gritty reality of modern space flight. (Hopefully not literally gritty, to be sure.) However the Atomium seems suspended in an alternate time line. Perhaps because the structure simply wasn’t intended to have a real purpose. (It isn’t a spaceship, however much it looks like one.) So visiting is a form of time travel that takes you back (takes me back anyway) to rediscover the future vision of the original creators.

Time travel - Atomium interior 7 escalatorsOn the very slow escalators, the light show – a more recent addition I’m sure – deliberately contributes to this sensation. Apart from making it feel like you are moving a lot faster than you are, they also hark back to cinematographic images of travelling through wormholes in space, along turbo-lift shafts or spacecraft corridors.

Time travel - Atomium interior 9 disco-bridgeThe psychedelic light show with electronic music in one of the spheres could have been a set for any number of low-budget SF films from the 1970s. I felt right at home. (A couple of other, younger visitors attempted Swedish House Mafia style dance steps, but soon gave up. The electronic music was far too slow and laid back.)

Central Brussels from AtomiumUp in the top sphere of the Atomium, the lower half has an observation gallery with great views over Brussels and the countryside around. The upper half is a restaurant. There may be good views there too, but as it’s a restaurant, not a café, I wouldn’t know. The Atomium itself costs €12 entrance fee for one adult, which I thought was OK, but I wasn’t prepared to buy a whole meal just to see the view one flight higher up. There is a café, but it’s at ground level and outside the building. I passed on that.

Atomium interior 3
The lower top deck of the Atomium, less spaceship, more submarine conning tower. The steps lead up to the restaurant.

Atomium interior 15 kids sphereOne of the spheres (off limits to visitors when I was there) was reserved for children. Apparently schools can come to an arrangement with the Atomium and bring a class here to sleep over in specially designed spherical beds. It sounds like a great idea. I grabbed a photo of the beds through the refelections on the door.

TheSupercargo with presumed Atomium with mascotWhat else to add? Oh yes, as I entered the Atomium on the ground floor I had my photo taken with a mascot. I didn’t choose this; it was nothing I could avoid. On the way out I was invited to pay another €7 for a copy of the photo. Well, I paid, but I still can’t work out what this was all about. The mascot doesn’t appear anywhere on the Atomium web site, so I’m guessing it was all in aid of advertising something else – but I have no idea what. I rather think that counts as an advertising failure.

Here’s another time travel photo for you!

Atomium interior 11 escalators

Added later that same day…
It occurs to me I should also say that, escalators aside, the Atomium also has some serious flights of stairs to climb – down as well as up. In the 1950s the future did not include physical disability. Or perhaps anti-gravity suits and jet-packs were going to make walking superfluous. Well, that was that future. In the real world the Atomium is not friendly to anyone with restricted mobility. And even if you don’t find long stairs a challenge, your legs may well feel the Atomium effect the day after. Mine did.

A visit to the Wikipedia page for the Atomium will inform you that the Belgian copyright authorities are keen to screw money on behalf of the Waterkeyn family from anyone who publishes unlicensed images of the Atomium. Consequently it seems necessary for me to point out that the illustrations on this blog post are exempt from rights restrictions as they are “photographs …taken by [a] private individual and shown on [this] website… for no commercial purpose.”

Hmm… Not all the photos of course, the images in the collage are sourced from various places on-line – mostly e-bay.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

London Green

London green: green is perhaps not the colour one first associates with London – red, perhaps, or black – but maybe one should think about green.

London symbolsIf you ask someone what colour they associate with London, I guess most people would say red (thinking of London’s buses); or red, blue and white (the colours of the London Underground); or perhaps black (thinking of the black cabs). The colours of the Greater London Council are red and yellow, blue and white, while the City of London’s coat of arms show the red cross (and sword) of St George on a white ground.

Green is one colour people don’t usually associate with London. Perhaps they should.

Last week Mrs SC and I were in England, partly to visit my family, partly to snatch a very brief break for the two of us in London. It’s many years since we were both together in Britain in spring, and after a long, cold, grey winter it was wonderful to be greeted by London under the sun and decked in green. We only had two days, but took the opportunity to walk through five of London’s parks to enjoy the London green.

Henry Moore's Stone Arch across the Serpentine in Hyde ParkLondon is such a tourist magnate, with all its sights, museums, events and buildings that it can be easy to forget just how much green there is in the city too. I’ve grumbled here before about “densification” (in Swedish, förtätning). This is the distressing behaviour of modern city planners and developers who believe the best thing to do with an open space in a city is to build on it. Preferably something monstrous.

I presume such planners and developers don’t actually live in the cities they are keen to make more dense. I imagine they have their family homes or vacation houses in the open countryside somewhere. People who actually live in cities – especially densely populated ones; people who don’t have a second home to flee to – perhaps have barely the one home they can afford; for these people the city’s green parks and open spaces are an essential amenity.

They’re not bad for tourists either.

In fact, according to this article from The Independent a couple a years back, 47% of London is green space. Mrs SC and I only visited a very small part of London green, but it was very enjoyable.

London green: London skyline from Hamstead Heath (City)Our first day, we walked from our bed-and-breakfast hotel near Finchley Road up into Hampstead village and then across Hampstead Heath to Kenwood and Highgate, taking in this view across central London. There’s a bit of a haze in the photo, but you can see the City of London’s financial centre and the Gherkin building, and the Glass Shard at London Bridge. Just in front of it you should be able to make out the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

London green: London skyline from Hamstead Heath (Westminster)In the second photo you should be able to make out the London Eye and the BT Tower – the spindle-shaped building to the right. (It used to be called the GPO Tower when I was a boy, in the days when Britain had a General Post Office that also ran telecommunications.) Between the two, on the horizon you can also see the radio and television mast at Crystal Palace. Unfortunately the resolution isn’t good enough to make out the tower that houses Big Ben at Westminster – but take it from me, it’s there. (For a much more detailed – and zoom-able – version of this view, visit Will Pearson’s London Panorama project.)

London green: In Kensington GardensOur second day we entubed to Queensway and then walked through the chain of Royal Parks down to Whitehall. Starting in Kensington Gardens, we walked south and east to the Serpentine, the lake that snakes its way through Hyde Park. We followed the Serpentine along past Princess Diana’s fountain and the Lido – the Serpentine’s bathing beach – all the way down to Rotten Row.

London green: Cavalry horses exercising on Rotten Row in Hyde ParkRotten Row is the ride that runs along the south side of Hyde Park where the Queen’s guard cavalry regiments exercise their horses. One team cantered past, kicking up the dust.

From the far corner of Hyde Park we crossed into Green Park and walked on to the far corner near the front of Buckingham Palace. The Queen was home (the Royal Standard was flying), but she didn’t come out to say anything indiscreet to us.

London green: Selfie in St James's ParkWe crossed into St James’s Park, paused for selfies on the bridge over the lake and then walked on to Parliament Square.

The whole walk took about 2 hours. (We weren’t pushing it.) At Whitehall we caught a number 11 double-decker bus to St Paul’s and enjoyed sitting down on the top floor as the bus edged its way through the traffic. When we finally reached St Paul’s, we had a sandwiches sitting in the sun on the steps of the Cathedral with all the other tourists.

That wasn’t all we did in London, but I think it’s enough for this blog entry.

London green: Skyline from Hampstead Heath

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Back in Brussels airport

Yesterday, as I write, I flew back to Belgium after a few weeks at home in Gothenburg. It was exactly two weeks to the day after the bomb attack on Brussels airport, and up until Monday I had not expected to pass through Brussels International. I was fully prepared for a flight to Antwerp or Liége followed by a bus journey, but no.

Brussels airport is struggling back onto its feet, shaking off the effects of the attack, and the first planes in and out flew on Sunday. Not to say that Tuesday was business as usual by any means. There were just a few flights and the place was emptier and quieter than I have ever seen it. Still, though, it was working.

Back in Brussels airport: the arrivals/departures gates

Here are a couple of photos taken of the gates. The moving walkways were running, but just a few people were travelling on them.

Back in Brussels airport: moving walkways

Back in Brussels airport: panorama of shut shops

Many of the airport shops were shut (above), though the restaurants around the atrium (below) were open. However, most travellers seemed keen to pass through and move on.

Back in Brussels airport: the atrium

Back in Brussels airport: cart

This electric cart (above) carried a reminder of why Brussels International needs to re-open as soon as it can. But the baggage reclaims hall (below) was desolate.

Back in Brussels airport: baggage reclaim hall

Back in Brussels airport: security

I didn’t think the security was very obvious, but it was certainly there (above). The direct trains and buses that usually shuttle passengers to and from the airport were suspended. It was taxis only (or private cars). The taxi queue was long, but orderly and efficient (below).

Back in Brussels airport: taxi queue

Sea of flowers and the steps of the Bourse

Later in the afternoon Mrs SC took me by the Bourse to see the flowers and signs and all the people who still stand around here, meditating, mourning, praying, adding their own messages and/or taking photos (above), “Pas au nom de l’Islam” – Not in the name of Islam.

There were a lot of signs posted by the international communities that call Brussels home (below). “I am Brussels,” they say, and “I am Palestinian/Congolese/Moroccan/Cameroonian. Stop violence. End racism.”

Messages at the Bourse

Even Brussels public transport (STIB) is wearing mourning after the bomb attack on the Maelbeek station. A current campaign to get people to use public transport has been adapted to the circumstances with a monochrome colour scheme, a mourning band and a re-purposed hashtag.

Brussels public transport (STIB) in mourning

Bruxelles c’est nous tous – Brussels is all of us.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.