My day at the RA: The Royal Academy’s 250th Summer Exhibition

I spent some time at the Royal Academy to see the 250th Summer Exhibition which was curated by Grayson Perry

A lot of people who know me will tell you that I’m not a very spontaneous person. I would choose careful, methodical planning over making rash and random decisions any day of the week. I like analysing things and weighing up all my options because I like to mitigate the likelihood of being disappointed. I don’t do this all the time as that would be exhausting, but I do tend to do this when planning what I want to do at the weekend, holidays and where I want to eat.

One of the pitfalls of being overly analytical (apart from being incredibly boring) is that you might miss out on opportunities because you spend so much time weighing up all of your options and pondering whether or not you want to do something that before you know it the restaurant/exhibition/concert that you want to eat at/visit/attend has gone. I’m also a serial procrastinator which doesn’t help matters either. Having said that, however, I have been trying to be more spontaneous recently to ensure that I don’t miss out on so many opportunities.

Earlier this summer I read an interview with Grayson Perry about the Royal Academy’s 250th Summer Exhibition, which he was curating, in the ES Magazine and I thought it looked like an interesting thing to see but I never made a plan to actually go. Fast forward two or so months later and I see a sponsored post on my Instagram feed telling me that the exhibition was due to finish in a few days #serialprocrastinator. Instagram was clearly stalking my search history as the timing of this sponsored post was too eerie to have been a mere coincidence. When I saw the post, I decided that I wouldn’t let this exhibition be another one that slipped through my fingers so on the last Friday of the exhibition I decided to just book a ticket so that I could go straight after work.

Now many of you might not think that this is spontaneous but for me it was a big step in that direction. I’m still a long way away from waking up in the morning, packing up all my clothes, travelling to Heathrow Airport and booking a one-way flight to New York but this was impulsive enough for me to consider it as slightly spontaneous #babysteps.

The exhibition itself was huge and was contained within three different spaces in the RA. A lot of the art was very topical and somewhat satirical in nature, but most of it was cleverly constructed, incredibly innovative and intricately put together. I’m not an art connoisseur by any means but I appreciate art which is humorous, has a hidden message or looks as though it has been painstakingly put together over the course of several months or even years.

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This dog was one of the best things I saw at the exhibition. It was made from what looked like recycled jewellery such as old watch heads, necklaces and brooches.

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This was another one of my favourite pieces. From afar it looked like a painting but the horses and trees were 3D and looked extremely life-like up close.

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As well as the art on show I also loved the atmosphere at the RA. It was buzzing and really felt like a Friday night at the museum. The space was bustling full of families, couples and lone ranger art enthusiasts who were soaking in all the work on display. There was also a bar serving an assortment of wine and prosecco; I’d never seen an art gallery or museum serve alcohol before. I didn’t know if this was happening because of the significance of the exhibition or because it was a Friday, but I didn’t ask why, I just got stuck in and enjoyed myself in what felt like my new happy place.

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This was one of the most unusual, yet interesting and fun exhibitions that I have ever been to and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. Have you ever been to the RA?

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Free art in Lisbon: Street art in Graça, Alcantara and São Bento

One of the things which struck me when I first arrived in Lisbon was how much street art the city had. Most of the street art can be found on the side of buildings and you don’t have to walk far to find colourful, thought-provoking and sometimes funny murals. Whilst walking back to my Airbnb from a Pingo Dolce supermarket in the Graça neighbourhood of Lisbon I came across some amazing pieces of street art and so I hastily took my camera out to capture them.

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One area in Lisbon where you can see a lot of street art is the LX Factory in the Alcantara district of the city. There are plenty of shops to stroll into and restaurants to while away time in, but I loved just having a wonder and looking at the different murals on display in the area.

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Like many other European cities, Lisbon has a thriving street art scene. You’ll often find street art whilst you make your way around the city to take in the sites or grab a bite to eat, just make sure you stop and take a good look at your surroundings once in a while otherwise you may miss it!

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A snap of a mural I saw when walking to Café de São Bento from the Jardim de São Bento which I managed to take before my battery died.

Have you been to Lisbon? Let me know where your favourite areas for looking at street art in Lisbon are!

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Shopping in Lisbon: A Vida Portuguesa

A spacious and aesthetically pleasing store in Lisbon where you can find gifts aplenty

I try not to go shopping when I’m on holiday. I despise clothes shopping when I’m abroad as the very thought of trying on clothes after a day spent walking (and sweating) around a hot city makes me shudder in horror. I also generally try to avoid buying other things like souvenirs because I am often flying short-haul to a European city and have stuffed my carry-on suitcase with so many clothes that I struggle to close it even when I am about to leave my house to go to the airport. I think this habit can be explained by my hypochondriac tendencies and perpetual need to have spare clothes just in case I get a stain on a piece of clothing, sweat profusely during the day and therefore need another outfit later in the day, or in case, through some unknown and unforeseen event, I tear a hole in a pair of jeans. I am a hypochondriac indeed.

There are, however, a few exceptions to my “no shopping rule whilst abroad” rule. If there is something I want to buy for myself abroad because it is cheaper or unavailable in the UK I will make a conscious effort to create space in my luggage for it. Additionally, I will consider shopping abroad when I want to buy a birthday or special occasion present for someone that’s a little more unique than what I might typically find in London. When I was in Lisbon I thought about how my niece’s third birthday was coming up, which in turn made me conjure up memories of a shop which I had seen in a YouTube video about Lisbon and which looked like the perfect place to find gifts. The shop in question is called A Vida Portuguesa.

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A Vida Portuguesa has a few locations in Lisbon. The original store in the Chiado neighbourhood is probably the most famous branch, however, the newer and much larger location on Largo do Intendente Pina Manique, which was conveniently only a six-minute walk from my Airbnb, has a much bigger selection of products and is even more aesthetically pleasing than the original (both inside and outside the store).

A Vida Portuguesa means “A Portuguese Life” and as the name might suggest the shop contains an array of items, both essential and extravagant, which one would find in a home. The shop is stocked with an array of toiletries, homeware, food, books, toys and quite possibly anything else that your heart desires. Shelves were stacked high with delicious smelling soaps, handcream and bodycream, tables were adorned with cutlery and crockery and larders were lined with olive oil, sardines, biscuits and the seemingly ubiquitous Portuguese cherry liquor Ginja.

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What makes this shop even more amazing is that its products are made in Portugal and many of the products available for purchase are still manufactured by family run businesses. The shop itself is stunning and almost looks like a villa which one might find in the Douro valley. Most of the shelves and tables were made of what I can only assume was fine Portuguese wood which had been varnished to perfection.

Another thing that I loved about this shop was that it was really quiet. This branch is in the Mouraria district of Lisbon which isn’t particularly touristy. With the exception of about seven people who wandered in and out of the store during my visit I had the entire place to myself. I loved being able to freely take as many photos as I wanted and take my time looking for gifts.

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Azulejos (tiles), ubiquitous in Portugal

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Clothes on the upper level on the shop

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A bit of old Hollywood glam in Lisbon

The products aren’t cheap, but neither are they extortionately expensive. I was eyeing up a few 50g soap bars but at eight euros each they were a little too rich for my blood. However, had I set more money aside for shopping for this trip I would have definitely purchased some for myself. Also, given that they are made in Portugal and not made en masse in a factory somewhere in the Far East I think the prices can be justified.

In the end I left the store longing for the verbena, tuberose and wild moss soaps which I thought smelled amazing but content with the biscuits I had bought for my work colleagues and the mini tambourine which I had purchased for my niece (I also bought her a dress from a market in London when I returned from my holiday in Lisbon; the dress had also been made by an independent retailer #supportSMEs).

If you are looking for well-made, authentic and typically Portuguese gifts or souvenirs then this is the place to get them from.

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Free Art in Lisbon: The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

If you’re looking for an amazing art collection in Lisbon which you can access for free look no further than the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

I absolutely adore art galleries and museums. I could quite happily spend time in an art gallery or a museum for an entire day if the collection is big enough. I think my love of art stems from my love of learning new things. I love history and learning more about the world around me and I find that art museums allow you to learn so much about different facets of history which have either inspired artists or had a profound effect on their work and lives. I think the only thing I love more than art galleries and museums is free art. I am forever grateful about the fact that I was born, raised and continue to live in London, a city which prides itself on being able to provide residents and tourists alike with a raft of different art galleries and museums which are highly accessible and largely free to enter (excluding private/special exhibitions). I think that this approach to art says a lot about how much a country believes that art is truly for everyone and that the enjoyment of art shouldn’t be restricted to a wealthy minority but should be available for all.

After doing some research I found out that the Calouste Gulbenkian museum, which normally charges visitors 12.50 euros, is free on Sundays from 2pm onwards (N.B. you still need to get a paper ticket from the reception desk as they scan in all visitors). I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t purposely arrange my visit so that I could arrive early on a Sunday, grab some lunch and enjoy an afternoon at the Calouste Gulbenkian museum for free. See, I really do love museums! Straight after I landed in Lisbon I dropped off my bags at my Airbnb, got a bite to eat and then headed straight to the museum.

Before I arrived at the museum entrance, I was amazed at how much greenery was surrounding the museum. It seemed to be enclosed by a large garden, which meant that the museum itself was in a very secluded and green space. As I wondered through the garden I was taken aback by how quiet and lush it was. It looked like the perfect place to spend a chilled Sunday afternoon.

The collection inside the museum itself is vast and varied. The museum is separated into different sections including the founder’s collection (which has a temporary exhibition adjacent to it) and the modern collection. In his will Calouste Gulbenkian, the Armenian oil tycoon and art enthusiast after whom the museum is named, bequeathed his private collection to a museum which he specified should be built in Lisbon to protect and exhibit it.

Over several decades he amassed an art collection which dwarfs that of the National Gallery in London. The space is filled with over 6000 works of art including porcelain from the far east, intricately painted Nanban screens and pottery adorned with Islamic calligraphy.

You can also find paintings from Dutch masters like Rembrandt in addition to masterpieces from the likes of Gainsborough, J.M.W. Turner and Claude Monet. The museum is also filled with ornate tapestries, armoires, candelabras and clocks; all in all, I was truly amazed at the depth and breath of the collection.

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A painting by Rembrandt Van Rijn

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A painting by Thomas Gainsborough

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Another thing I loved about the museum was that the walls nearest to the garden were large floor to ceilings windows. Even though some windows were tinted or covered with screens to protect the paintings from natural light which was pouring through the building, I felt as though the windows gave the museum the illusion that the paintings weren’t only contained inside but were outside amongst the flora and fauna surrounding the museum. This made the space seem even bigger than it was and gave you the impression that there were no real boundaries between the interior and the exterior.

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View of the garden through a floor to ceiling window

The museum also featured a temporary exhibition called “Pós Pop”. This mainly featured pop art created in the 1960s onwards by a raft of mainly Portuguese and British artists. This temporary exhibition provided a nice contrast to the art which I had just witnessed in the founder’s exhibition.

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All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Calouste Gulbenkian museum. If you are a lover of art (Renaissance or modern, paintings or sculpture) and luscious, serene green spaces I highly recommend giving this place a visit – especially on a Sunday afternoon!

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