Lisbon Day 6
March 31st, it’s Susete’s 30th birthday!
Originally, our flight out of Lisbon was supposed to be at 7am, but of course, SATA cancelled that flight and put us on a 7pm flight.. a 12 hour swing. At first we were annoyed by this, no one likes flight changes, but turns out it was sort of a blessing in disguise. We actually haven’t spent a lot of time in the city, since we’ve done a lot of day trips, and this was a chance to allow us to just enjoy this awesomely unique city. A birthday breakfast was in order, so we started the day by heading out to see the Mercado da Ribeira, the main market in downtown Lisbon. It’s a must for me to visit markets every place we go, so I was glad we got to sneak this one in on the last day!
The Mercado da Ribeira has very old roots, some say going back to the 13th century… and at one time being one of the largest fish markets in Europe. It is indeed very old, but has also gotten a recent modern makeover, as it’s now sponsored and managed by Time Out (the travel/tour/info online magazine), and this makeover is truly amazing!! Normally, I really hate it when a large company comes in and makes sweeping changes to a historical site, often sucking the soul out of it. This time, however, Time Out has done an amazing job, and in my opinion, has created one of the greatest markets I’ve ever visited.
On the eastern half of the market, it’s pure old school. Vendors packed in selling the freshest of products… flowers, produce, and seafood. I was determined not to leave Portugal without some authentic famed piri-piri peppers, and I found them! The sweetest lady, who didn’t speak a word of English and who loved me so much (or so I like to think), hooked us up with some free packs, as I bought a bunch. I would’ve taken all she had if I could’ve fit it in my luggage! The products here are so amazingly fresh and so cheap, it really blows my mind.
On the western side of the market is where Time Out really did their magic. They have made it sleek and clean, while still retaining much of the historical beauty that a market delivers. The restaurant kiosks have actually just small versions of high-end and gourmet food providers, with the tiny spaces looking like very modern and high-end restaurants, and run by some of the best chefs in Lisbon. The foods there are really amazing, and this space gets my vote as the absolute best market food anywhere. And that’s no exaggeration! Imagine St. Lawrence market’s food booths being run by Toronto’s best restaurants and top chefs. This is how the Mercado da Ribeira is. This place is magic for me.
Leaving the market, we decided to head uphill, to explore the Bairro Alto neighbourhood. Here, we found Europe’s most expensive chapel (the chapel of St John the Baptist in the Igreja Sao Roque, as well as (in my opinion) the best view of Lisbon at Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara. Portugal is FULL of miradouros (lookouts or viewpoints), but this one is by far, the best one overlooking the city of Lisbon.
From Bairro Alto, we walked back downhill (uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill… this is Lisbon!) to the centre, into the Praça da Figueira to visit some shops. I wanted to pick up some seeds from a specialty seeds store, to bring back to Toronto to try to plant and grow some unique Portuguese produce. From there, we headed back east, through the Graça and Alfama neighbourhoods, to the Panteon Nacional. It’s Tuesday, and the Feira da Ladra (“Thieve’s Market”) was going strong. This is the biggest flea market in Lisbon, and only runs on Saturdays and Tuesdays. Again, it must’ve been fate that delayed our plane, because this seemingly grungy and trashy flea market was a little gold mine for us. We managed to find the remaining products that we were hoping to bring back home, that we hadn’t picked up until then. We did some bargaining and went home with a ceramic Gallo de Barcelos, two ceramic Andorinhos (swallows, which is an iconic symbol in Lisbon), and the grand prize, some 18th century azulejos! We were so excited to be able to find these old, authentic tiles, as normally it’s quite expensive to get some tiles, and many of them are reproductions… but at the old flea market, some vendors have tiles pulled right off of old buildings, from renovations or restorations, so they are super authentic!
After a long and adventurous Lisbon trip, we still had a couple hours until we had to go to the airport. The sun was out, the temperature was up, and the little restaurant right outside our apartment door (Pateo 13) decided to open, as it’s only open during nice weather, since it’s primarily a patio spot. It was a nice finish to the trip, a last chance to relax and take in the Lisbon life. What a magical city this is. History, culture, diversity and food. Lisbon satisfies it all. We will be back. Yes, we will.