It started innocently enough ‘let’s go for a stroll’ because, you know, we have time, no need to see all the city in a day. My infamous, record breaking, First Day of Vacation in Barcelona Ultra Death March was very politely not mentioned but just barely hinted at with ‘But not too long, right?’. That man was raised well!
In my defense I will only say that the Barcelona UDM ‘stroll’ was (probably) less than the 26.2mile Full Marathon distance (Well…I’m not quite sure, but I’m sticking with that story). Of course, not that we had trained for Full Marathon distance either… or for even a 5K for all that matters.
Our first stop was as Tease, a permanently full-to-capacity, small tea shop downstairs from us. We had our coffees and I had a savory pastry filled with creamed spinach. It was scrumptious, the crust was doughy enough to have bite but still a little flaky (usually indicative of massive amounts of fat, possibly even -gasp!- LARD!?!?!). Reminded me of the ones to be had in Greece, mmmm. Thank goodness I don’t have too much of a sweet tooth, I’m in trouble enough with the savory stuff! And a high wine consumption rate does not help either.
As a random thought, it has been more than once in this week that Lisbon has made me think of Athens. I cannot quite pinpoint the similarities, but they are in there somewhere. Maybe the warmness of the people, the ups and downs, the slight grittiness of both cities…. I will continue to ponder this.
When people say Lisbon is ‘hilly’, they are lying. Maybe not outright lying but certainly making the understatement of the year. Lisbon it is not hilly, it is VERTICAL. The only flat spaces in the city are the Praça de Comercio and a few streets in the Baixa.
We headed out (and down) towards the river with the weak sun of early April warming the air just enough to keep us ‘not cold’. After a lot of mapless wanderings we wound up in Mercado da Ribeira. This is a combination of a traditional food market (grocers, fishmongers, butchers, et al) and a Food Court on Steroids mega eatery.
The food market looked a little sad BUT (and this is an important qualifier) it was Saturday in the early afternoon. This means that all the early birds have taken their worms and only slim pickings are left behind. Saturday morning shopping for the full weekend and even Monday seems to be the norm in most food markets as some specialty stores will not reopen until Tuesday.
I’m still trying to decide if we liked the food court experience (it is indeed an experience) or not. It was packed. Every single tourist in Lisbon seemed to be here. People were hustling for places on the communal tables and trying to get couples to scoot over two stools down so that they could fit in their parties together. The restaurant choices are extensive and go from the traditional Portuguese to Thai Woks by the way of Leitaõ (whole roasted pigs), Italian style gelatos, specialty Tartar, and ‘artisanal’ hamburgers.
We opted to have our first glasses Vinho Verde and some oysters as we were still full from our late breakfast. The glasses of wine €4 and that seemed to be the average price in the restaurants. We should have gotten a bottle, just like everyone else around us. I will give the market extra credit for the decent stemware. Oh yeah, we are in Europe! Real plates, glasses, cups and utensils everywhere! This makes me happy as I have to snobbishly admit that I extremely dislike plastic tableware.
Bottomline, is this an authentic Lisbon experience in the traditional way? Absolutely not. But it is quirky modern and an easy way to sample multiple dishes at the same time. And the people watching is unbeatable! So…Go there and have a drink.
Then we continued along the river promenade, passing a very cute café with great views of the 25 de Abril bridge but even with windbreakers and heaters it was just too cold to sit outside. Dully noted for a warmer weather return. We reached the beautiful Praça do Comércio, its bright yellow walls contrasting the (briefly) bright blue sky and then wandered into the Baixa. Loved the elephant on the central statue.
We wandered through the Baixa, dodging overenthusiastic waiters annoyingly trying to get you into their restaurants. We are an odd couple –for various reasons- and it was funny watching the waiters trying to figure out in which language to address us. Some even started with Portuguese and then switched to English.
I also find it particularly intriguing that most vendors, street performers, and waiters have not been able to place me correctly, addressing me in either Italian or French. I mean, those ‘grabbers’ in restaurants have these things down to a science. Certain intelligence agencies that will remain unnamed could learn a thing or two from them. Not that we need any more of that in the world.
I have always perceived myself as very clearly (lol!) Hispanic on the olive-whitish end of the spectrum. In Spain a lot of folks have correctly narrowed down their guessing to the Caribbean basin. C individually is addressed (somewhat correctly) in German most of time.
We passed the Elevador de Santa Justa with its long line of tourists waiting to be transported couple hundred feet into Chiado and eventually wound up in Praça Rossio for another round of wine and even more awesome people watching.
The entertainment on the street merits a full description just because the list of incongruences was simply mind-blowing. I mean, we are smack in the middle of Lisbon and this group of 5 guys dressed as Native American (think full feather Cheyenne Headdress but purchased in the Party City Costume Department and pleather fringed suits) start setting up their sound system. Something didn’t quite add up with them and I perked up my ear. Sure enough, they were speaking Spanish with Central American accents. Then the panflutes / windpipes came out. And what did they start playing? Well, there was Zamfir and the Flight of the Condor of course, but then it got better: Abba’s Chiquitita (to the crowds great enjoyment and sing along chorus) followed by Journey’s Open Arms. What can I say, as ridiculous as it sounds they sold quite a few CD’s. They might be on to something.
Eventually we got up and started working our way up (and up, and up) possibly through the steepest and endlessly long set of stairs in Lisbon (I’m sure that we will find worse in days to come) behind the Rossio metro station and up to the church of Saõ Roque.
I mean, really, it would not really be First Day of Vacation without visiting a church, right? I’m going to make a disclaimer here so that my enthusiasm is put into perspective: I am NOT a religious person but I do go into churches. I go into most churches I walk by. I love old churches. I go into a LOT of churches. The only thing I love more than old churches? Cloisters. I adhere to the ‘Leave No Cloister Unseen’ travel philosophy.
Igreja de Saõ Roque is a 16th Century Jesuit church with a flat wooden roof painted with faux domes. The chapels are outstanding. Particularly notable are the two alcoves that flank the altar with an arrangement of reliquary sculptures and containers. In the past, I have seen these images moved to the church Treasury so I’m not quite sure if this display was common centuries ago or if it is a Portuguese thing. But truly, all the chapels are magnificent.
We were starting to wear a little thin so we started to make our way back home via the Miradouro de San Pedro de Alcantara. A place to be greatly enjoyed on a warm sunny day, which this was most certainly not. Matter of fact, it started to pour so we ‘had’ to dodge into Tapas 52 for a glass of wine while we waited the rain out. The music was a rather pleasant loungy jazz but people are allowed to smoke inside. Not nice. The food looked good, though.
We made it home to eat an absolutely disappointing Pasta Carbonara, one of my longstanding go-to dishes. I still don’t know where I went wrong with that one, it usually works well for me. Cooking can be a very humbling experience. But, it let itself be eaten with enough Alentejo wine to wash it down.