Lisbon In Books: The Two Hotel Francforts

It was actually quite a coincidence that I picked up this book… Wandering into the lovely Daunt Bookstore in London, which orders books by the place they are set in, I stumbled across The Two Hotel Francforts. The cover was intriguing, as it showed a couple in the 1940s on Rossio Square – a time that I find quite fascinating for all sorts of reasons (including the fact that my mother happened to be living in Lisbon at that time). Not knowing too much of the book (and the cover not being much of an enlightenment), I decided to give it a read – originally thinking it would be some sort of detective story or spy story, which seemed quite appropriate given the time it is set in.

Well.. I was pretty wrong: what the cover doesn’t give away is that it is actually very much a gay story, albeit of two married men, set in Lisbon. This came as a bit of a surprise to me – although the author has previously written extensively about this (and maybe I should read a review next time before starting to read a book… or does that spoil the fun?).

The basic premise is that two American couples meet in Lisbon. They are refugees fleeing the Nazis via the last open port in Europe – and by coincidence end up in the same café, though living in two very different, but named the same, hotels in Lisbon (yes, there actually were two hotels Francfort in Lisbon – see here for more information and pictures [in Portuguese]).
Just when I wondered where the plot was heading (still expecting a few spies to pop up), on a “boys night out”, the two husband start an affair – all against the backdrop of both couples trying to secure passage out of Lisbon and to America with their wives – and not entirely happy to leave the old continent behind.

I’m not trying to give too much of the plot away, only to say, it does take a lot of unexpected turns. But it is not just the love (or sex?) story that is intriguing and well written… it is also the backdrop of 1940s Lisbon live among people trying to escape – and the description of the atmosphere surrounding this extraordinary situation and time in this city.

As you might expect, this book is not much about Portuguese – nor does it venture much beyond the refugee circles and their life, as none of the characters interacts with locals. Of course, this is very much the story line, and although this could be read as somewhat disappointing, it would only be so if you expect a character study of the Portuguese. Don’t expect much in terms of local habits or local psyche… even Salazar and his policies only appear in very small doses. If you see the book as an atmospheric description of life as (very wealthy) refugees in this strange neutral country – then you will love it… if you happen to read it in Lisbon, you’ll be even more intrigued as it talks about some of the places which are still here, taking into account how they were at that time. For example, there is a lot of talk about Pastelaria Suiça… the way the author talks about it is very much how my mother talked about it. If you look at what I’d call one of the worst tourist traps on Rossio square today, you wonder why anyone would want to be there – but those were different times, and the author does well in reviving them.

Overall, if you are interested in any of these:
– Lisbon in the 1940s
– wealthy people fleeing the Nazis
…or just want to read a gay (I’m not sure I’d call it love-)story…
this is your book. If all three interest you – you’ll have trouble putting the book down.
And although it had no murders and spies, as I originally thought, I definitely enjoyed reading it tremendously.

David Leavitt (2013), The Two Hotels Francfort, New York: Bloomsbury USA

Uber vs Taxi in Lisbon

Today is a day where the taxi drivers in Lisbon will be on slow go to protest the proposed legalisation of Uber (and Cabify) in Portugal. This dispute is extremely bitter and has been going on for a while now (see these reports about it – in Portuguese).

To be honest… I’m in a bit of two minds about this.. on the one side I really don’t like the Uber’s business model, and therefore have always avoided taking them in London (or other places I have traveled). On the other hand, four out of five times I have been in a taxi in Lisbon I have been taken for a ride… which really doesn’t endear me to the Lisbon taxi drivers.

It is true that in Lisbon the taxis are relatively cheap, so even if they take you for a ride, it will not usually break the bank. That said – it can be quite a bit more expensive, and I’m definitely not happy about such behaviour. In fact, if you read some price comparisons, it seems Uber is sometimes slightly more expensive than regular taxis (and by that I’m talking with someone who is Portuguese in the back seat). However, as cheap as the taxis may be when they go directly from point A to B, the more complicated it can get when you have to explain to a taxi driver where he should go. To make it easier and avoiding having to explain where to go, I simply  pick a big building or square … and ask to be dropped off there. However, at least in Lisbon that doesn’t seem to be a recipe for success: When I tried that with Praça de Espanha the taxi driver completely ignored this – and drove off on a dual carriage way to somewhere else… It took a lot of shouting to get him to stop and I eventually made my way back to the place I wanted to be on foot. And really, Praça de Espanha is not that easy to miss or not know…
Another time, a taxi driver decided that the quickest way to go from the Airport to the Parliament Building was to first head to Parque das Naçoes … and then loop all the way around. In the latter case the damage wasn’t really so bad as being in the middle of nowhere because a taxi driver can’t locate a quite massive intersection in Lisbon, that said, it was notably more expensive than it should have been (still not really expensive, but about 25% more or so).

So far with Uber, on the other hand, I never seemed to have any problems. Firstly, because I guess the application seems to automatically guide the driver to wherever you tell it to go. That is a massive convenience (it also means I can rely on the person dropping me off where I want them to, rather than going somewhere nearby). Also, without exception, the Uber drivers I have met seem to be friendly, genuinely happy to have you on board and all seem to speak very good English.

I know this doesn’t really make up for the issues surrounding the company as such… I know that maybe I have just been unlucky with regular taxi drivers… but  to be honest, from my experience at least, Uber seems to have the upper hand in Lisbon – and while I’m sure there are some really honest and hard working cabbies out there… unfortunately, some taxistas seem to enjoy taking the scenic route a bit too much.

Establishment Day of the Republic – 05 October

OK, so yesterday I wrote all about scheduling – and here comes the first scheduling “mistake” – forget bank holidays! So… Little did I realise that today is “Implantação da República”, a bank holiday to commemorate the establishment of the Republic of Portugal in 1910 (if you are historically minded, here is a quick summary of the events). I only figured out that it was going to be a bank holiday after I had finished my work on Tuesday and was reading the news before heading to bed…  there was an article about 30ºC and going to the beach in one of the papers, and I thought it was rather strange that a newspaper would suggest to skip a day in the office… and head for the beach instead (especially in a country in which good weather isn’t exactly earth shattering news!).

Digging into the article a little deeper, I discovered that it was indeed talking about a mid week holiday: talk about a treat! Luckily I don’t have to go to an office – as I’m sure I would be very annoyed if I would have turned up there only to find out it was closed! This actually happened to me once while I lived in Spain, so it is better not to be repeated… I know, as a freelancing, writing kind of guy this doesn’t or shouldn’t immediately make much difference to me… but at least I now know a bit more! Intriguingly the holiday day was apparently scrapped in 2013 as part of austerity measures in Portugal. But, it has been brought back to life under the current government.

I tried to find out a bit more if there are any traditions associated to the day, but it appears it is largely a ceremonial day for the political classes – rather than something that is more widely celebrated. So, no special cakes, pastries or drinks – but simply a day off – unless you are (un-)lucky enough to stand on the balcony of Lisbon city hall … The only other “regular” event I could find was the opening of the gardens of the Presidential Palace in Belém (am I forgetting something here? Let me know!)

Of course this year is a bit special, as it sees the opening of the new museum in Belém (MAAT Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia) – an absolutely stunning building in the touristic and somewhat political hotspot that is Belém. Coincidentally, it now also makes sense to me why the museum would open on a Wednesday!

So … even if it is “just” a nice and quiet day, it is lovely to find out that there is suddenly a bank holiday. I have now googled and entered all the holidays in my calendar … so next time I’m prepared (for All Saint’s Day as it seems, on the 1 November!). So… in that spirit: Happy Establishment of the Republic Day!


Albufeira … Coast, Cliffs, Beaches

Our weekend away was pretty much an exploration of the coast around Albufeira. Prior to heading there, I had fairly little idea what we would find. I somehow imagined that it would be a bit like some of the Costas you can find in Spain: with large hotels and long beaches. To come straight to the point: It is not, although it has some aspects of it.

Albufeira itself is a pretty cute little town. Continue reading “Albufeira … Coast, Cliffs, Beaches”

Weekend… Off to the coast by Rail

One of the great advantages of being in a small country is that everything is really (relatively) close by… which, of course, in the case of Portugal, means stunning coastline and beaches are literally just minutes away. And although Lisbon has some amazing beaches (see the post about Praia 19 – the “Gay Beach of Lisbon”), a friend and I decided to check out the Algarve last weekend. I’ve split this post into two: First, a post about the train ride (with some hints about trains in Portugal) – and then a second post about Albufeira (coming soon) Continue reading “Weekend… Off to the coast by Rail”

Praia 19 – The Gay Beach of Lisbon

Praia 19 – or Beach 19 – is the “must do” gay beach after partying all night in Lisbon – or maybe just to top up your tan (without the tan lines if you so wish).   I had been to Lisbon a few times, but as I’m not really a beach person (sorry, I get bored too easily), I hadn’t been to this mystical wonderland of sun, sand … and men.  Nevertheless, I decided to check it out – and so here is the “lowdown” on the beach some people call the best gay beach in Europe… Continue reading “Praia 19 – The Gay Beach of Lisbon”

The first 48 hours of Lisbon: Arraial Pride

IMG_7692Friday was finally the day, and it was “bye bye” to Brexit-land – and hello to Lisbon.  Of course, I didn’t expect my leaving day to be quite such a dramatic day in the British and European landscape… However,  Brexit certainly had quite an effect on what I planned as a quiet traveling day, and just before hitting the second of the Lisbon Pride celebrations, Arraial Pride, the day after arriving. Continue reading “The first 48 hours of Lisbon: Arraial Pride”

From Wuppertal to Lisbon – a Cultural Journey

SchwebebahnIf you are now wondering what Wuppertal is… I totally get you. Few people have ever heard about it… Wuppertal is actually my home town in Germany, and the place I grew up in, until I left for London in the 1990s. Wuppertal is famous a few things though: Aspirin came from Wuppertal, Engels, one of the original authors of the communist manifesto – and it has a railway that hangs upside down (and that is the defacto mode of transport in the city). As far as similarities with Lisbon are concerned, it is hilly, too. And that pretty much sums up the similarities.
So… what is Wuppertal doing in a blog about Lisbon? Well, just as Lisbon has inspired many artists, some artists with a connection to Wuppertal have been inspired in and by Lisbon. And here are two examples … Continue reading “From Wuppertal to Lisbon – a Cultural Journey”