This is the second of five posts. View Day One.
Overview: After a good night’s sleep, lunch at Mercado do Peixe, a traditional Portuguese fish restaurant, a long walk through Baixa and Alfma and dinner at Largo, a modern Portuguese restaurant in Chaido.
We arrived in Lisbon Tuesday morning after our overnight flight from Philadelphia. Day 1 was active, but “close to home” and ended with a wonderful dinner a few blocks from our apartment. By 11PM — that’s 4AM Philadelphia time, we were ready for a good night’s sleep. Wednesday morning — Day 2 — greeted our rested trio with bright blue skies and mild temperatures. The earliest riser, I made myself coffee in the apartment. On a chair that straddled our living room and the narrow balcony that overlooked the street, I alternately read the New York Times on my iPad and watched the neighborhood wake from slumber.
Sleepy heads Noah and Christina held out for their late morning repast at a local bar. All coffee comes from the espresso machine and espresso is the default coffee. What Americans consider “regular coffee” is an Americano — a double espresso diluted with hot water. Here Noah goes for a straight double espresso.
Day 2 Walk: Baixa and Alfama
We set out on Day 2 to conquer the Citadel that overlooks Lisbon across the lower city from Bairro Alto — and stroll through Alfama, the neighborhood that sits stretched from the base of the citadel down to the waterfront. St. George’s Castle was the Moor’s fortress until conquered by the Second Crusade in 1147.
Despite a long gaze by Noah, Christina and myself, we were confounded by how this street performer — one of many — stayed suspended in the air. We began our post-lunch march through Baixa or the lower city — a flat area that sits between the hilltop neighborhoods of Bairro Alto and Alfama. Baixa is Lisbon’s commercial “downtown” shopping district and includes a mix of offices, shops, restaurants, some residential. It also is the principal transportation hub. Baixa is the area of the highest concentration of tourists.
The central avenue — Rua Augusta — is for pedestrians only and leads down to the river. It is paved with patterned black and white stones that often give a distinctive feel to Lisbon’s walkways.
As in cities around the world, streets are shared with pigeons.
The terminus of Rua da Prata is punctuated by massive arches that lead to a wide plaza and the river beyond. A left turn headed us up a long hill toward Alfama.
As we climbed ever higher glimpses of the the wide river on which Lisbon sits peak between buildings.
We wound our way up narrow and winding streets. Here we came across a small neighborhood plaza where we rested with cold beverages at a neighborhood watering hole..
Looking down from the massive walls of the Castle of St. George to Baixa, where we began our walk, we had a sense of how high we traveled and could imagine the sense of domination felt by 12th Century rulers of Lisbon in the Middle Ages.
Admission to The Castle is 5 Euro (about $7 US). The above photo taken within The Castle…priceless. There is a white tablecloth restaurant housed within the walls of the castle that would make for a nice lunch — though better would be to have lunch at one of the restaurants that dot the streets of Alfama.
At the foot of The Castle sits the core of Alfama — Lisbon’s oldest and most picturesque neighborhood. It was historically home to fisherman and the poor. In 1755, Lisbon experienced one of the most destructive earthquakes in world history. The quake was followed by a tsunami and fire claiming the lives of nearly 900,000 people. Much of Alfama was spared. As a result, Alfama retains its character of compact winding streets punctuated by small public squares.
What is most wonderful about neighborhoods like Bairro Alto and Alfama is that they are extraordinarily lively by virtue of the people who live there and not the people who visit there. Unlike lots of tourist-centric areas where it feels like a show is being created for tourists, here you feel that you a bearing witness to the day-to-day life of people who live here. And they are perfectly happy to share.
Our visit to Lisbon coincided with the annual July festival of St. Anthony. This festival sits in the middle of a two month-long Festas de Lisboa. For that festival, the sardine was embraced as its symbol.
Throughout the city were a series of sardine-inspired images created by local artists.
A small convenience market is nestled beneath apartments.
The Alfama neighborhood is the heart of the St. Anthony’s festival that begins in earnest on Thursday evening and runs through the weekend.
Lisbon wears its patina of age with grace. It was the general lack of glitz that I enjoyed most about Lisbon.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My eye found this all quite beautiful.
After nearly four hours of walking from Baixa, up a long hill to The Castle and up and down the hilltop of Alfama, we opted for public transport home. The No. 28 tram — shared by residents and tourists — connects Alfama on the north, down the hill through the edge of Baixa and back up the hill to Chaido and Bairro Alto and neighborhoods beyond. Note the “sardines” on the front of the tram.
We got off in Bairro Alto and walked a few short block to our Lisbon home. Above is the balcony of our second floor apartment. Time to rest before dinner.
A note about our apartment rental
As mentioned in Day 1’s post, I identified the apartment and rented it entirely over the internet including paying a small deposit. The few questions that I had were promptly answered via email. Upon our arrival at the airport in Lisbon we called a number and spoke to the person who would later meet us at the address, provide access to the apartment as well as a brief orientation to the neighborhood and Lisbon. The balance of our rent was due and payable in cash. A security deposit was accepted on a credit card. This person was also our contact should we have any questions or problems. While linens were included, we called our contact to inquire how to secure more towels without a response. We didn’t try very hard as it was not an urgent problem, but it was of some concern that we did not get a response. There was adequate kitchen paraphernalia and we could have cooked, but we choose not to. Overall, we loved our apartment. While an apartment does not come with the same level of daily making the bed and bed-turn down that a hotel would offer — no mints on the pillow, its benefits including cost far outweighed the sybaritic pleasures of a hotel.
Day 2 Eat: Mercado do Peixe and Largo
Our daily plan was a light breakfast, a modest lunch and then dinner as the evening’s entertainment. But my life’s motto is: Have a plan and be flexible. Since we wanted to “save” our dinners for modern Portuguese restaurants, in order to accommodate a recommended traditional restaurant we “upgraded” Day 2’s lunch plan. Our lunch turned out to be the culinary highlight of our day.
Mercado do Peixe
We had asked our friendly waitress at 100 Maneiras for her suggestions as to where to dine and where to listen to Fado, the traditional Portuguese songs of melancholy. (More about Fado in Day 4’s post.) One of the places she suggested was Mercado do Peixe for traditionally prepared seafood. Mercado do Peixe translates as Market of Fish.
Our expectation was an informal place set in a fish market. After a long cab ride (about $15 US) we were surprised to find a somewhat formal though unpretentious restaurant. The restaurant is located adjacent to a forest area call Monsanto, located on the outskirts of central Lisbon. A comfortable dining room was half filled with customers who appeared to be local business folks — mostly male. The windows that line the dining room look out on to the parking lot. So, the view outdoors isn’t so great.
The view was all about the fish. While it was not the informal fish market with stalls, fresh fish and seafood on ice were the centerpiece. Lunch began with a casual walk-by of the day’s catch.
There is a hierarchy of waiters. The guys in blue take the orders and the guys in white bring the food. The guys in blue speak English.
A large tank hold live spiny lobsters was not just for show.
We quickly abandoned our light lunch plan and since we had totally skipped breakfast, this beginning was a sort of breakfast for us. We started with a local cured ham. Noah went for a local beer and Christina went of the wine. I was holding off on my “alcohol calories” until dinner…but for a glass of port at the end of lunch.
The ham sat in the traditional stand and sliced paper-thin by hand.
We also went for the Amanteigado, a local semi-soft raw sheep’s milk cheese. To eat the Amanteigado, you pry off the top “crust” and dig in. It is accompanied by excellent rolls.
This is not fancy food. There is nothing stacked high on slate or on gigantic plates with lots of white space. Mercado do Piexe simply offers fresh seafood. Nearly everything is grilled over charcoal — a touch of olive oil, salt and peppers and an optional squeeze of lemon.
To get started we shared a plate of small local butter-poached u-peel shrimp. Then we got down to serious eating with langoustine.
Onward to platter after platter — grilled sardines, squid, octopus and a local cousin to red snapper pictured above. Yes, of course we would like a mixed salad with tomatoes and onion. Christina and Noah often feign displeasure at the quantity of food I order for us…and then dig in leaving nary a morsel.
The real show is the central grill with all male cooks. Off to the side is the “prep kitchen” — apparently a women’s place.
Portugal is famous for its pastries and the main streets are lined with pastry shops. We ended our meal at Mercado do Peixe with a Pastel de Nata, a traditional Portuguese pastry that is offered in pastry shops and coffee bars throughout Lisbon. The Pastel de Nata is a small baked tart made with a flaky dough resembling puff pastry and filled with an egg custard. It traces its origins to the late 18th Century and Catholic nuns in Belem, a Lisbon neighborhood .
Mercado do Peixe
Estrada Prado Teixeira, 78
We are what you might call “food troopers.” Despite a prodigious lunch, after our long walk and rest, we were ready for dinner! But where to eat? Included on our list of internet and guidebook generated restaurant possibilities was Largo. It is located in Chaido. Chaido is a neighborhood that shares the hill occupied by Bairro Alto and about a five-minute walk from our apartment. Its proximity moved it to the top of our list as our daily quota of walking was nearly full. Chaido is considered Lisbon’s most chic neighborhood. We can handle a little chic. We called to see if we could get a table in 15 minutes and were told yes so off we went.
Largo occupies a former cloister. By any standard, it’s chic in that sort of international language of chic-dom. The space is architecturally dramatic — more so than any of the other restaurants we visited. Largo’s food was fine. The experience not unpleasant. But it is interesting to contrast our experience in this chic Chaido boite with the prior night’s experience at 100 Maneiras.
The two spaces could not have been more different. 100 Maneiras is pictured above. The modesty of 100 Maneiras contributed to its warmth and intimacy. By contrast, instead of warmth, Largo provided a cool elegance. At 100 Maneiras, the diner is central and the setting a pleasant backdrop. At Largo, the setting is central. My first restaurant job was in 1971 for Peter von Starck at La Panetiere, an elegant French restaurant here in Philadelphia. It was forty years ago and I was the busboy. Peter loved his restaurant most before the guests arrived. He loved the large crystal chandelier that dominated the center of his dining room. He loved that the walls were painted with subtle variations of greys and taupes. He loved the abundant flowers (Peter taught me to arrange the flowers) and the sparkling silverware and glassware (both of which I polished) and the fine china. Customers…not so much. The heart and soul of the restaurant business is hospitality by which I mean creating a sense of welcome and warmth. Yes, in fine dining style counts…artful design to compliment artful food. But in the careful balancing act of fashioning a restaurant, the sizzle can overwhelm the steak. For me, such was the case with Largo.
Sitting at my desk in Philadelphia some weeks after visiting Lisbon it is of note that I seem to not have any photographs of Largo including the food. The image of the restaurant I took from their website.
Rua Serpa Pinto 10, Chaido
Coming on Day 3: Walk: Chaido. Eat: Lunch at 1 de Maio, a modest traditional Portuguese restaurant in Bairro Alto and dinner at Alma, an excellent modern Portuguese restaurant. Fado in Alfama.
Thank you for visiting,
Your Home Entertaining Coach (and occasional travel advisor)