Lisbon – an oxymoron of sorts…

LIsbon city
Lisbon city

This is the first time I’ve visited Portugal, and I must say, I am pleasantly surprised by how interesting the capital is, although I still can’t decide if I like it or love it.

Like the coastal towns of their Spanish neighbors, Portuguese cuisine consists of mainly seafood – but simply boiled and served cold, so you really get to enjoy the pure sweetness of our crustacean friends. It is not unusual for tables at restaurants to be covered with wet tissues, plastic hammer and board, crab crackers and lobster forks. (for an amateur seafood eater, I would highly recommend having a few pieces of first-aid plasters close by, or a useful helpful husband who can peel prawns and crack open crab and lobster shells for you).

Is this a good time to confess that when we visited the Oceanarium on our last day, my stomach was growling so much when I saw all the lovely sea creatures swimming infront of us, all I could think of is yummy delicious seafood! (especially stingray grilled with sambal chilli and fish curry)



IMG_5428I absolutely love Portugese architecture. The pretty cracked blue and white tiles that cover the walls of several old buildings remind me of the Peranakan shophouses in some parts of Singapore and Malacca in Malaysia, where many Portugese traders came to build their colonial settlements in the 1800s. I would love to live in a  building that is painted fuschia pink or a happy egg yolk yellow.

Lisbon seems like a city of many contradictions. The historical district is a complex and compact maze of winding streets that goes up and down at every turn. It is definitely not a pram, wheelchair or high-heel-friendly city. We would have loved to take a ride on one of their iconic trams, which seem to be only about 5 metres long, but we know it’s impossible to squeeze a pram through the narrow entrance.

There are plenty of wide open spaces, especially along the marina area where you can enjoy long quiet walks, and the major tourist attractions are spread across the city. The many space-age looking museums and massive sculptures showcasing Portugal’s colorful history as a illustrious leader in sea trade are a sharp contrast to the skeletal frames of old clock towers, dilapidated warehouses and office buildings left in shambles, which must have been a bustling enclave of people coming in and out a long time ago.

For a global city which has 3 million residents (Lisbon is the 11th most populous city in the European Union),

it is also awfully quiet.

I’ve just returned from visiting Singapore and appreciate being able to walk around town without being jostled around. The streets are never packed with people or cars, even on a weekend. Our Portugese friend told us most residents hardly stay in the city on weekends, preferring to visit the many coastal towns nearby where they can lay on the sandy beaches all day long.

I was hoping that everywhere I go – left, right and centre, I would bump into the likes of Ronaldo Cristiano. He’s probably in the U.S shooting another Armani underwear ad. Portugese men tend to have a lot of facial hair and are generally quite short. It’s alot more likely to spot the likes of Hugo Almeidas. In general, the locals are a warm, easygoing and helpful bunch of people.


Bairro Alto (Old town) and tram line
Coastal town of Cascais





the most famous and popular cafe for egg tarts



Fighting the weather blues

I spent a good part of the harsh European winter basking in the warmth and soaking in, or rather, soaking wet with sweat, in sunny Australia and Singapore.

This trip has really lifted my spirits; I felt my batteries recharged and I’m all geared up to take on the new year. After the initial excitement of having snowy white Christmases and New Year countdowns with spectacular fireworks in Europe have kind of worn off, the bitter cold and lack of sunshine have finally gotten to me after 3 years.

I never knew how much the weather can affect one’s mood. In Singapore we use to gripe about the humidity, the heat, the haze (when our neighbors in Indonesia start their slash-and-burn activities) and the torrential rain. Now, I think I’ll rather drown in my own prespiration 365 days than face the grim darkness and fog 6 months a year. And to think I’ve escaped the worst temperature drop in Europe when it got to as low as -20 degrees celsius. This is the time where everyone falls ill and we can’t arrange for playdates because every other kid is having a sniffly nose with snot smeared on his tiny face.

I read in some magazine about Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D), also known as winter depression or winter blues, where people with normal mental health throughout the year experience depressive symptoms in a particular season. Apart from the weather, I think it is also the reduced level of social interaction that makes people depress. In summer, you’ll see throngs of people out and about, having morning jogs, riding their bikes and sunbathing on whatever scanty patch of grass they can find. In winter, I’ll be happy to even see one person walking his dog by the lake. The suicide rate for village settlements in valleys or countries, particularly in Scandinavia, with only few months of sunshine, is generally higher too.

I am thankful that I can escape the cold every year by going overseas. But when my son starts school proper in a few years, it’ll be harder to take time off and stay away for long periods of time. This calls for desperate measures. I’ve penned down some ideas I think could help alleviate S.A.D come next winter. Most medical sites and even wikipedia suggest using light therapy to combat S.A.D. I will consider:

1) Buying a Star Wars-type laser beam that releases light. This is cheap, portable and easy to carry around,

2) Install harsh, whiter-than-white flourescent light rods in the entire house so our home looks like a science lab,

3) Cover my feature wall with motifs of spring and summer like clear blue skies, flowers, sun; and even have sound recording of birds chirping to the tune of Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ and ‘Summer’ concertos,

4) Build an adult size bed like the cribs that newborns with jaundice are placed in,

5) Buy a ski resort high above the fog where you can still get plenty of sunshine,

6) Take strong sleeping pills so I can sleep through the entire winter.