A Love Letter to Lisbon (part 2)

A Love Letter to Lisbon (part 2)

By Callum Ruddock, Third Year Politics and International Relations

Callum continues his love letter to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, and gives anyone thinking of travelling there some top tips.

Another food typical of Portugal is the famed pasta de nata (egg tart pastry with cinnamon). We got ours from Manteigaria. Widely considered to be the best place to buy them, its service left much to be desired. Manteigaria’s beautiful shop front gave way to an open kitchen where cooks dressed to the nines layered pastry and squirted custard into moulds. The smell of fresh coffee is one of the few smells I adore. Marbled surfaces and cheque tiled floors introduce an air of luxury, but you shouldn’t be worried about price. Affordability is ensured, as is quality. The tarts are always warm and flaky. The coffee served just at the right temperature as to not burn your mouth. I mean I hate how they serve espresso in the U.K. It’s meant to be drunk on the spot not thirty-five minutes later when the cups cooled from thermo-nuclear to a 90 degrees.

Each morning we’d rise at 07:00 and think about the night’s concerto of moped horns. I would jog, to avoid the heat which was bound to build to unbearable later on. Running through the heart of Chiado and turning parallel with the coastline, I could be seen tripping on loose cobbles, and smiling as I went. Having spotted the backlog of people outside the shop I made it my mission to find out what was motivating people to queue for so long. Of course, silly me, it was the famed Manteigaria.

Epigram/ Callum Ruddock

From that point onwards I would barrel in and bark the word espresso multiple times at the clerk behind the counter. She’d give you a ‘I heard you the first-time idiot’ kind of look and shortly after that, hand me my usual one coffee, two tart combo. Not once did I get a hello or thank you. I didn’t mind though, I figured it was part of the service. Just something they did to keep customers on their toes and satisfy as many people as possible.

Don’t let the service turn you off. Manteigaria is located on Rua do Loreto and opens at 08:00 sharp. Expect long queues and neighbourly conversation. Regardless of what diet you’re on – try one – as you can walk off the calories simply by climbing the nearest hill.

Lisbon is littered with polite, well-kept squares. The largest of these is the Praca de Comercio. Lisbonites take these squares very seriously, especially those which provide more than just a place to assemble. Beyond the grandeur lies a more noble function. These are places for the community. In my opinion the most real of these squares has to be Chafariz do Carmo. Up on the São Roque hill the plaza hosts a humble 18th-century fountain elevated surrounded by South American jacaranda trees, whose shifting canopy compliments the sharp sun and whose shadow’s soften facial features. A place to stop and perch.

Epigram/ Callum Ruddock

Here quiosques and cafes set out their outside areas, and I would sit and pretend to enjoy a glass of port (when in Rome). Chafariz do Carmo has played host to some of Portugal’s most important events. On 25th April 1974 the MFA (Portuguese Armed Forces); as part of the Carnation Revolution, surrounded the Quartel do Carmo where Marcelo Caetano (former dictator António de Oliveira Salazar’s replacement) had found refuge. Their pressure pushed Caetano to cede power to General Spínola who in turn brought democracy and freedom to Portugal. Some might say that it was in that little square where the Estado Novo (New Regime) finally died. And whilst lots of Lisbon has succumbed to tourism and time; this part of Lisbon at least, feels untouched.

Epigram/ Callum Ruddock

If you’re not feeling the hike, take the Elevador de Santa Justa which plops you 150m from the square. Yes, the square is central; though I was always baffled how quiet it was even mid-summer.

The LX Factory revealed itself to us after a morning spent traipsing around the empty park Tapada das Necessidades  – dilapidated and underfunded its dilapidation only added to its beauty. People had taken to scrawling their names or love letters onto the large sharp leaves of Aloe Vera plants. We awkwardly trespassed the Instituto da Defesa Nacional – to the annoyance of the national police, and headed westwards as we wound our way through seemingly familiar hills, crossing abandoned brownfield sites, and hauling past the odd vespa outlet.

Once a fabric production plant built in the industrial port area of Alcântara the factory now functions as a cultural quarter where many arty retailers, boutiques and restaurants have taken up residence. When gazing upwards your skyward view is blocked by the impressive Golden-Gate looking Ponte 25 de Abril bridge. At LX Factory modern Lisbon takes shape with an impressive cultural contribution to boot. If you’re hungry try Cantina LX. The cod fish there is to die for. How civilised I must be as I explore an upmarket urban regeneration project. Recognise your yuppie nature and crack on.

Epigram/ Callum Ruddock

Jardim de Torell rose high above the city’s most hilly of hilled streets like the tallest tree in dense woodland. It was a supposed to be a ‘secret’ bastion where children could swim and couples could romance. Found nearby to Campo dos Mártires da Pátria, up high in a neighbourhood of revivalist mansions built sometime in the 19th-century – Torell played at my heart strings and I resolved to fall in love with something up there on those lawns. My time in Lisbon had aged me – I was feeling more and more at home. Nearby in Alfama I found Lisbonites going about their daily life. At the Feira da Ladra I bought trinkets and chatted with locals. For all its ruggedness and emotions, the market stank of sincerity.

When I chatted; at first people seemed reserved. I spoke no Portuguese and they spoke no English. Smiles, nods and hand signals – augmented with the help of a bit of hip wiggling when pop songs came on, eased any anglo-portuguese concerns.

If you do visit Alfama of an evening. Finish your night off with cocktails at Mesa de Frades, a Fado music bar built in a former chapel. Performers will wander between tables and wine will flow freely.

Top Tips.

A small beer in Lisbon should set you back €1.80 and a coffee roughly €1. Aim to grab a drink around 20:00. Dine at 21:00 (though many restaurants will happily serve you earlier). This is not Paris. You do need to tip. Add a couple of euros to your bill is tascas and cafes and 10 percent in more upmarket venues. It’s customary to round up taxi fares too. The Portuguese are a timely bunch. Even the casual traveller must abandon tardiness. Be on time, be polite, and be prudent.

Lisbon is about panoramas. We used to climb up to plaza Miradouro da Graça for beer and views. Avoid the trams – walk instead. Whilst pretty they’re a pick-pocketers haven. Lisbon is small and the hills will do you some good. For coffee with a view try Café da Garagem. Those of you with a broader pocket will enjoy Casa do Alentejo for dinner; classically inspired Moorish cuisine (expect to pay £100 per cover). For roof top drinks it has to be Silk Club (dress to impress). As for shopping. A Vida Portuguese is a must for Lisboan inspired goods with no trip to Lisbon complete without a stop at Ioja das Conservas for tinned sardines (a local staple).

Featured Image credit: Epigram/Callum Ruddock

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