Posts Tagged With: portugal

What I did in Lisbon after I put down the mic

Lisbon is a beautiful city. Its combination of vintage buildings and sweeping hills, together with its location on a major port, supply its aesthetic charm. When you factor in the cable cars (known locally as trams) that traverse the hilly streets of its downtown, Lisbon bears more than a superficial resemblance to San Francisco, a city to which it is often compared (The two cities also share a delightful Mediterranean climate. A further point of similarity: while San Francisco is much more famous for its seismic hazards, Lisbon suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 1755, with a magnitude estimated to have been as high as 9.0, that helped inspire Voltaire’s Candide. If you visit either city, you risk being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the next Big One strikes).

And like San Francisco, Lisbon has now been a stop on my World Karaoke Tour. I sang on my very first night in Lisbon, a Friday night. I was staying in town through the following Monday morning. How did I occupy the rest of my long weekend? Continue reading

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Last night, on my very first night in Lisbon, Portugal became the 24th country on my World Karaoke Tour. I didn’t want to go out last night; I’d been up for two days (as usual, I’d been unable to fall asleep on my redeye flight from New York the night before). I was exhausted and really just wanted to be in my hotel room catching up on some zzz’s.

But when I chatted up the man at the front desk of my hotel and had him make some phone calls, he was adamant that I was extremely unlikely to find karaoke tonight (New Year’s Eve) or the following evening (a Sunday). At the same time, he assured me that a venue called Café da Ponte in the Doca Santo Amáro section of town (a region also known as the Docklands or Docks) did in fact have karaoke last night. He called them and confirmed it.

It was possible that by exploring on my own today, I would find a venue that offered karaoke for New Year’s Eve or the following night. But I couldn’t count on that. So if I didn’t hit Café da Ponte last night when I had the chance, I risked having nowhere to sing during my stay in Portugal — and thus jeopardizing the very mission of this trip. Seeing some castles and monuments would be nice, but if I didn’t sing karaoke this weekend, my vacation would be a failure.

So it was really a no-brainer. 🙂 At 10 pm I jumped in a taxi, which conveyed me to the Docklands. It dropped me off at the taxi rank, which was all the way at the end of the strip of bars and restaurants; my destination of Café da Ponte was at the other end. I hadn’t gotten very far when I was accosted by four Portugese youths.

At first they seemed friendly enough, asking me where I was from and feigning excitement when hearing that I hailed from New York. Suddenly, one young man who seemed like the leader of the quartet asked me if I had drugs. “No,” I said. “Let me see,” he responded, pointing to my backpack. I shook my head and started walking away from the youths.

Undeterred, the youths followed me and now surrounded me. “Let me see if you have drugs,” the leader repeated.

At that point, I was thinking that I did not come all this way just to be mugged or whatever by some second-rate hoodlums. Although it was dark and there weren’t many people out yet along the strip (I was later advised that on a Friday night, people don’t really start showing up in that area until about 11 pm), I did spot a group of older folks a little further down. “Help!” I yelled, loud enough so that they could hear me (and I did catch their attention); then I made a run for it. My assailants smiled, realizing that I’d gotten away.

I was still nervous since I would have to return this way to get a taxi back to my hotel after I sung. But I figured I would deal with it, and now I proceeded to Café da Ponte for some Portugese karaoke.

The host, Tiago, was very nice and put me up as the first singer (although the fact that I was the first patron to submit a song may have had something to do with it). By the time that Tiago handed the mic to me, a decent-sized crowd had assembled. From the generous selection of English-language songs in the book, I chose “At This Moment” by Billy Vera & the Beaters, which is one of my A-list songs. And about four minutes later, Portugal had become the latest addition to my World Karaoke Tour.

I was having a good time and would have liked to stay and get to know some of the locals as I would ordinarily do. Unfortunately, after having been up all night, I felt an overriding need to just get back to the hotel for some much-needed rest. So I reluctantly took leave of the nice people at Café da Ponte, and hoped that I would have the chance to make a more leisurely appearance there sometime (but that more leisurely visit won’t happen this weekend, as they have no karaoke tonight or tomorrow night).

Incidentally, when I told the bartender about my encounter with the ruffians at the entrance to the Docks, he called the police. He said that I wasn’t the only person who’d complained about them. By the time I had to walk back to the taxi stand, even though I hadn’t been at the Docks for very long, there was a sizable police presence on site.

Lisbon, like most places in Western Europe, certainly seems like a safe city — it doesn’t have the reputation of a Rio de Janeiro or a Mexico City. But my incident at the Docks is a reminder that no matter where you go, there will always be people who mean to harm you; so it’s important to always be alert and exercise caution.

Well, I shouldn’t spend all of my vacation time in my hotel room writing blog entries. 🙂 Time to get out and take in some of Lisbon’s sights!

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Another year, almost in the books

As 1989 was giving way to 1990 I was in Scotland, where New Year’s Eve is known as “Hogmanay.” The occasion for my visit to the homeland of Robert Burns was the World Universities Debating Championships, which were being hosted by Glasgow University. I was representing Johns Hopkins University, where I was a senior.

That trip marked the first time I’d ever ventured outside of my native United States, and the first time I’d even flown on an airplane. It helped ignite my lifelong passion for travel. Meanwhile, as the 1990s dawned, karaoke was still largely unknown in the United States, but was only a little over a year away from being introduced into my life.

The Hogmanay party that I attended that year involved snifters of scotch repeatedly being carried out onto the dance floor, and resulted in me waking up at 4:00 pm the next day — and only because my debate partner was banging on my door and shouting that I needed to get ready for supper. Unrelatedly, during that same Scottish visit, I got into trouble during a tour of a maximum-security prison when I attempted to shoot candid photos of the guards on duty. The prison authorities confiscated my camera and destroyed my film. Fortunately, I was released without the need for intervention by the U.S. embassy. (You may be wondering how I ended up visiting a penitentiary in the first place — especially one that housed convicted murderers and other violent offenders. The answer is that during the debate tournament, a match was held at a local prison, with some of that facility’s residents in the audience. Selected inmates were even permitted to give floor speeches — that is, speeches in which audience members may advocate for the pro or con side of the proposition that is being argued — before the debaters delivered their rebuttals to sum up their points for the round. I remember one particularly eloquent and poignant floor speech during which a prisoner stated, “We are not Untermenschen!” I had to admire a hardened criminal who was literate enough to make such a philosophical reference). Anyway, if a similar incident were to occur today, I would, of course, make every attempt to hide the memory card in my pocket, and swap in a memory card containing photos that I would not mind deleting.

A generation later, I still have yet to spend a night in the Big House. And I’ll be in Europe once again for Hogmanay, although they don’t call it that at the place where I’m headed. One week from tonight I will usher in 2012 from Lisbon, Portugal. This will mark my third consecutive time ringing in the new year from an overseas location.

Two years ago, I welcomed 2010 in Hong Kong. In that city’s New Year’s Eve extravaganza, as with so many others around the globe, the countdown culminates with a fireworks show at midnight. But instead of being detonated above buildings, the fireworks are actually shot off of skyscrapers along that city’s beautiful skyline.

London also offers an outstanding fireworks display for New Year’s Eve. I took in that one to kick off 2011. The focus of London’s festivities is the launching of fireworks from barges on the Thames. If you’re watching the spectacle from the correct side of the river, you can see the pyrotechnics exploding with the London Eye in the background.

At the conclusion of this post, you can check out photos of the New Year’s Eve fireworks displays that I witnessed in recent years in Hong Kong and London.

As for my NYE plans next weekend, I’ve heard that Lisbon puts on a fireworks show over the Tagus River. I may or may not end up at that one, depending on whether I find a karaoke show that night. 🙂 In that regard, it should be mentioned that I have not yet confirmed a specific venue at which to sing during my stay in Lisbon. A couple of weeks ago, I contacted the Portugese tourism bureau, asking if they could recommend any Lisboetan establishments that offer karaoke on any of the nights that I’ll be in town. They forwarded my request to the more localized tourist board in Lisbon. Shockingly, the fine folks in Lisbon respoonded to my inquiry as follows:

“Thank you very much for your e-mail. Unfortunately we do not have this kind of

And I was like, what the hell?! Isn’t it the job of the tourism authority to gather that kind of informations? And this response became all the more baffling when one of my Facebook friends noticed that the Portugese tourism bureau’s own website states as follows, in describing nightlife in a neighborhood known as the Docklands: “[Y]ou can show off your talent at one of the various karaoke bars . . . .” How hard would it have been for the Lisbon tourism folks to check their own partner’s website? Or just pick up the phone and start calling some bars and restaurants in the area?

Despite the lack of a specific identified destination (and the lack of help from the people who are supposed to assist tourists with these sorts of requests), I’m fairly confident that I’ll find somewhere to sing in Lisboa. After all, I at least know that there are “various karaoke bars” where people show off their talent in the Docklands section of the city. I also have received a hot tip that there may be additional karaoke spots in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto district. So I’ll have to enlist my hotel concierge to make some phone calls, and maybe I’ll even pop in to a few venues myself to chase down leads. These are time-honored methods by which I discover where I’ll be able to sing.

No matter what I end up doing this December 31, I’ll have much to celebrate as I reflect on the year that’s slipping into the history books. Among other stellar happenings, 2011 brought the launch of this blog. 🙂 It was also during the past year that my World Karaoke Tour reached its sixth continent, Africa, during my visit to Morocco. As we embark on 2012, I plan to continue singing in exotic and far-off lands.

A very happy holiday to you and your family!

New Year's Eve fireworks in Hong Kong. Note the year displayed in large illuminated numerals on the side of the lanky building towards the right. That building is 2 International Financial Centre, at 415 metres the tallest building in Hong Kong. My vantage point for this shot was the Kowloon peninsula, across the harbour from the city centre.

New Year's Eve fireworks in London, nearly one year ago, seen from the Westminster Bridge

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It’s time to get things started!

Shown here is my most recent international singing experience, in Mexico City in May 2011.  The scene depicted in this photo occurred at a bar called “Pedro Infante no ha Muerto.”  The name of the bar means “Pedro Infante hasn’t died.”  In case you’re wondering who Pedro Infante is, Wikipedia states that “José Pedro Infante Cruz . . ., better known as Pedro Infante, is the most famous actor and singer of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.” Wikipedia also tells us that notwithstanding the optimistic outlook of the bar’s proprietors, Señor Infante departed this world in 1957. Anyway, I think that “Pedro Infante no ha Muerto” is a pretty cool name for a watering hole.  What wasn’t cool was how, when I was trying to get back to my hotel at the end of the night, my cabdriver robbed me, forced me to get out of the taxi, and left me in the middle of nowhere.  But that’s a story for another time.

Hello and welcome to H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke!  This site was created to document my ongoing World Karaoke Tour.  I have sung karaoke in 23 countries on six continents, plus Easter Island; and within the United States I’ve performed at karaoke venues in 12 states plus the District of Columbia.  You may have noticed that I mentioned six continents, one fewer than the total number that the Earth has.  The missing continent — for now — is Antarctica, but I will get there eventually.

Yes, there’s a place to sing in Antarctica. Gallagher’s, a bar located on the scientific research base McMurdo Station, offers weekly karaoke nights.  It’s not easy to get there; most tourists who visit Antarctica arrive by sea, and McMurdo is on the opposite side of the Antarctic continent from the place where you would alight if you arrived on a cruise ship from South America.  So transportation is a challenge, to say the least.  And it’s no easier to find lodging for such an extreme destination. There are no hotels on Antarctica — let alone at McMurdo Station — that you can book through a site like Expedia or Orbitz. Well, to be more accurate, there are no hotels at all.  But despite such daunting obstacles, singing on the seventh continent is absolutely a bucket list item for me.  I will find a way to make it happen.

I sing karaoke under the stage name “H-Bomb.”  I’ve been performing under that nom de guerre since the fall of 1992.  Back then — in the mists of time, when the United States was the only country in which I had ever done karaoke — I was a first-year law student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  On Thursday nights I would sometimes go out for karaoke at an establishment called the Jennifer Street pub, in the Dupont Circle neighborhood where I was living.  My actual name is Harvey, and so naturally I would write that name on the song slips that I handed to the KJ.  On one such Thursday evening, the KJ didn’t care for my singing.  Each time that it was my turn to sing, when he would call me up to the stage, instead of calling me by the name I’d written down, he would summon me as “H-Bomb.”  He meant it as an insult.  But I immediately saw the possibilities of becoming a weapon of mass destruction.  Despite the origins of the sobriquet, I readily embraced it, and I’ve been singing as the H-Bomb ever since.  My identity as the H-Bomb has permeated my life; my handles on internet message boards usually begin with those letters, and even at work, it is not unusual for colleagues to refer to me as the H-Bomb.

I said that I’ve been singing as the H-Bomb since 1992.  And that is mostly true.  But there is one exception:  In 2008, when I visited Japan, I thought that to sing under the name of an atomic bomb might not show sufficient respect for cultural sensitivities.  : )  So, at those Tokyo karaoke bars, I sang as “Godzilla” instead.

My next scheduled international trip will take me to Lisbon, Portugal for New Year’s weekend 2012.  I also am scheduled to travel to Egypt in February 2012 for a cruise on the Nile (I was originally supposed to go to Egypt in February 2011, but as you probably know, a revolution erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the early part of that month.  Egypt’s version of the Arab Spring resulted in the cancellation of my tour, and I went to Morocco instead, while rebooking the Nile cruise for one year later.  As my delayed Egyptian vacation approaches, the political situation in Egypt continues to be unstable, and I am monitoring it closely). I hope to fit in some singing during both of those upcoming excursions.  As I add additional locations to my World Karaoke Tour, I will post updates on this site — with photographs and videos!

And the updates will not only be about my singing.  My karaoke wanderlust is about satisfying two of my great passions:  karaoke and travel.  So when I am on the road, I will blog about the sights that I’m exploring during the daylight hours, as well as the venues where I grab a mic in the evening.

Between trips, I will use this site to report on my karaoke adventures on the home front; and in the beginning while we’re getting caught up, I will reminisce about my international karaoke experiences to date.  Much has happened since the magical night in June 1993 when an outing to the Duke of Argyll pub in London made the United Kingdom the first foreign country on my World Karaoke Tour. : )  I will also blog about my general thoughts on all things karaoke.

I envision this blog being interactive.  I’m generally very good at finding karaoke spots in my travel destinations — usually well in advance of my departure.  But sometimes, especially in non-English-speaking countries, finding a singing venue is quite challenging for me.  I look forward to a time when my readers in far-flung locales will advise me — and each other — on where to sing in every corner of the globe.  Maybe I’m being unduly optimistic, but that’s the way I roll.

Last week, I visited the Louis Armstrong house in the Corona section of Queens, New York. This unassuming brick edifice (seen in the photo on the left) is the actual home in which the great Satchmo lived with his wife, Lucille, for the final 28 or so years of his life (Lucille was actually his fourth wife, but by all accounts she was the great love of his life). You can see the rooms of the house, preserved as they were several decades ago when Mr. Armstrong was in residence. It was a fascinating tour. So, the tour guide was mentioning how Mr. Armstrong was the first musician who traveled all over the world to perform. That tidbit has provided further inspiration to me as I continue with my own, much more humble musical wanderings. And another thing: the guide claimed that Mr. Armstrong appeared on “every continent.” However, I strongly suspect that he never made it to Antarctica. So if I can make it down there, I have an opportunity to do something that even the legendary Louis Armstrong was unable to achieve. : )

Well, that should suffice for an introduction.  Thanks for your visit, and I hope to see you back here soon!  And I apologize for kicking things off with one of those cliched “hello, world!” posts.  I promise that some exciting new content is coming soon. This is only the beginning!

Happy singing,


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