Thursday, 29 June 2017
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QueenofEnglandYesterday saw the Trooping of the Colour in London. The annual parade to celebrate the Queen’s birthday took place beneath a blazing sun and no less than five guardsmen fainted from the heat.

The Queen in fact has two birthdays. Her real one on 21st April – the monarch turned 91 this year – and her official one, which usually falls on the second Saturday in June, a time of the year when the dodgy English weather is supposed to be more indulgent to outdoor celebrations.

JamesLisbonA tsunami of gentrification is racing across the Lisbon hills. For centuries a sleepy city on the remote fringes of Europe, Lisbon is now definitely on the map and the visitors are pouring in. But has this boom now got out of control?

Giant cruise ships tower over historic buildings, making us gasp as we cross the street, while a stream of low-cost aircraft land like noisy migrating birds. Lisbon has become a strong destination brand, the perfect place to head for a city break, or even for a property investment. Nothing, it seems, will stop this tide.

JamesStAntonioThis week, Lisbon will be ramping up to Saint António’s day, the 12th of June and the peak of a wave of street parties. All this month Lisbon will be partying, 'com intensidade.'

In what a friend of mine recently dubbed the city’s “hysterical centre,” impromptu barbeques have appeared on street corners and the scent of grilled sardines hangs over each neighbourhood. For the thirsty, and they are a multitude, stalls serving draft Sagres or Super Bock also have popped up.

Mountain bikers from all over the world train in the hills of São Brás areaThe Ria Formosa is home to the largest population of sea horses in the world. The yearly Bike Meeting in Faro attracts about 35.000 bikers. In Silves, they make wine out of oranges. With coasteering in the Costa Vicentina Nature Reserve, you jump off 12m cliffs into the Atlantic Ocean. The Algarve’s cuisine isn’t only about sea food, but also includes locally farmed porco preto. Mountain bikers from all over the world train in the hills of São Brás area. In Castro Marim, you can take a mud bath in a traditional salt pan.

JamesArtistIf you are in Lisbon, you should head straight to the wonderful Calouste Gulbenkian Museum as fast as you can. Until the 5th of June, you can see the work of an important Portuguese modernist artist, José de Almada Negreiros.

In 2016, the Grand Palais, in Paris, hosted a hugely successful exhibition of another Portuguese artist, Amadeu de Souza-Cardoso. His fellow modernista Portuguêsa has not yet, however, broken through onto the international stage. Almada Negreiros certainly deserves to, and this is one reason why the major exhibition of his work which recently opened at the Gulbenkian is such an exciting event.

calcadaThere is no doubt about it, the world’s most beautiful pavements are to be found in Lisbon. Along the city’s waterfront several kilometers of them are currently being renovated.

With their playful designs recalling the city’s maritime heritage, Lisbon’s pavements are one of its most delightful features. Their patterns offer an exuberant celebration of Portugal’s past as a great seafaring nation. In the streets and squares of the historic centre we discover ships, sea creatures and, in particular, waves, culminating in the great set piece of Rossio Square, covered by an entire ocean which rolls beneath our feet.

hash2The low number of deaths in Portugal from drug overdose indicates that the decriminalization of drug use can dramatically reduce the number of these deaths. The reality behind the statistics is more complex however.

In 2001 Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs. The idea was that drug taking should be considered a public health issue and not a criminal one. 16 years on, this courageous liberal measure would appear to have brought uncontested benefits. Portugal now has an impressive 3 deaths from drug overdose for 1 million citizens, compared to a horrifying 44 for 1 million in the UK.

JamesSaoBentoA few weeks ago, some of Lisbon’s official buildings held an open day, to welcome members of the public. I visited one of them: the Prime Minister’s residence.

We were standing in a line of well-dressed Portuguese waiting to go through a metal detector. Apparently this appliance wasn’t functioning correctly as a friendly policeman was waving people through without any further security check. This laid back attitude could almost be taken as a metaphor for the current Portuguese administration, in which empathy and confidence-building are both playing an important part.