Lisbon Day 6 – a fishy museum and gorgeous sunset

I had a bit of a lie on the Monday morning – I guess it was all my walking and climbing hills catching up with me after the previous day’s trip to Sintra! So after spending a bit of time doing my usual morning routine of writing my diary and doing my Duolingo, it was eleven o’clock before I was leaving the hotel for my last full day in Lisbon.

The sky was blue again as I walked down Avenida Liberdade. I’d decided today was going to be a mop up day. I’d left my plans very loose, so that on my last day I could just chill a bit and go and see anything I’d spotted over the last couple of days but hadn’t yet visited or head back to places I wanted to see again.

A quick coffee stop

My first stop of the day was to grab a coffee. I’d read about Fábrica Coffee Roasters on a couple of websites and actually thought I’d come across the chain on one of my trips to Scandinavia.

Turned out that was wrong, and it’s a purely Portuguese chain. There was one not too far from my hotel, so I made my way through city centre streets and was soon sitting down to write my postcards with a pain au chocolat and an americano – pretty much my standard breakfast!

It wasn’t great. It was seemed to be full of digital nomads and tourists but also full of small flies buzzing about which really put me off! It may have just been that location, but no matter how good the coffee was I don’t think I’d return.

After writing my postcards, it was time to get them posted. A quick google showed me there was a post office just a short stroll away. Inside, I was not surprised to see what seems to happen in post offices all around the world replicated as soon as I walked in the door. One lady with a million parcels at the counter, and two staff behind the counter – one of whom gets up and walks off!

The queue grew and grew as the lady being served continued to weigh her parcels one by one. There was only one person in front of me and in the end it took fifteen minutes to get served. What is it about post offices and staff’s incredible ability to completely ignore long queues!

I had one touristy attraction I was going to visit today, but before I doubled back to go there, I made a quick detour to the nearby Arches Global store to see if they had the sweatshirt I’d had my eye on. Sadly not! They were sold out and the lady explained once their designs are gone that’s it.

A cod museum

Five minutes walking took me to my first significant stop of the day. It was situated on one side of Praça do Comércio – an enormous square which opens up on to the Tagus river.

You can’t help but be impressed by the square – in years gone by it would have been here that Kings and Heads of State would disembark after arriving in Portugal by ship, and it would have been a spectacular arrival point.

Today the square was busy with tourists posing for photos and a man blowing an enormous amount of bubbles through a big hoop. It was a really nice spot just to walk around – helped by the fact that the sun was shining and casting a warm glow over the plaza.

Tucked away in one corner of the square was the Centro Interpretativo da história do Bacalhau – a museum dedicated entirely to salted cod.

It’s hard to explain what a key role the preserved fish seems to play in Lisbon (and perhaps all of Portugal). It’s absolutely everywhere. In my experience, every food shop I’d visited had enormous displays of massive slabs of the preserved fish. Lots of restaurants featured cod on the menu, and guide books were full of articles describing its popularity. I found it all a bit mysterious and wanted to understand what the appeal was, hence my trip to the salted cod museum!

The entrance to the museum was situated in a grand hall with a high ceiling – which doubled as the museum’s shop. As well as the usual notebooks and stationery on display, there were pieces of salted cod available for purchase too. I bought my ticket (€4) and made my way through the automated turnstile into the museum proper.

It was very quiet… I was the only person in the whole museum.

The first display was er… famous pieces of art reworked to feature a cod. Like this…

And this…

Oh my cod, right?! A short walkway then took you into a large open space with a massive open book, which a film was projected onto.

I stood and watched the film for what seemed like an eternity but actually didn’t really learn very much. It was all about exploration and filled with people’s names. I don’t know whether it was just that I was tired or that it was a bit boring but I really couldn’t take any of the information in. It seemed to be about how people from Portugal had sailed the seas and ended up in / discovered Newfoundland in Canada.

Walking to the right of that took you into a room with a small dining table and some photographs and displays on the wall. Random videos showed men in rowing boats at sea. I watched bits of them but again just felt I wasn’t actually finding anything out about why salted cod was so popular! This was all about the fishermen’s experiences at sea.

A timer on one wall counted down to a door sliding open, and I walked into a small room surrounded by screens.

In one corner was a sou’wester and hat while in the middle was a rowing boat. I put the sou’wester and hat on and sat in the boat as a video played in front and around me. Like this!

This is meant to be one of the key experiences of the museum, but I just found it a bit lacking to be honest. It wasn’t really an immersive experience, despite the boat tilting from side to side. It didn’t feel realistic at all! I think maybe some smells pumped into the room or some moisture spray would have made all the difference, but as the projection finished I just kind of thought “ho hum” not “Wow that must have been a really difficult experience for fishermen”. Maybe even if the screen had been curved?

Upstairs on the split level museum was a display of cardboard bits of cod with facts on them…

…and a weird room with a pretend fridge and microwave which played videos and had interactive displays about cooking cod. Tablets also displayed recipes for the fish.

And that was it. I dunno… maybe something was lost in translation but the museum actually felt a bit over designed and the content a bit thin. I wanted to go there to learn just why Portuguese people had fallen in love with salted cod and why it remained so popular today. Instead I learned a bit about them exploring Canada, that fishermen had a tough life, and I took a photo of a recipe for Cod Gazpacho with Boiled Egg. If I’d paid anymore than €4 I would have felt a bit ripped off. As it was, I’d spent 45 minutes looking at interesting displays but didn’t learn very much. I’m thinking now maybe I missed the point and that the whole thing was they discovered it on their travels, and it was because of that it became popular, but that wasn’t really explained either.

I’d struggle to recommend the Salt Cod History Interpretative Centre unfortunately! Back outside the sun was high in the sky, colouring it a gorgeous deep blue.

I walked along the street and took a quick peek in an old grocery store. It was laden with sacks of beans and pulses, shelves of tinned goods and is apparently one of the few stores left in the city centre that sells salted cod. There was a fridge (or a freezer?) full of it while other varieties were lined up on an old style counter.

Back outside I walked along to the bus stop and was soon travelling towards the next destination of the day.

A trip to LX Factory

I’d spotted LX Factory without realising exactly what it was on my cycle journey to Belém two days previously. It was where I’d taken a slight detour to marvel at a cool mural of a girl wearing headphones.

It was only when I looked at the picture’s location later on a map I realised I’d actually been at a venue I’d had on my list to visit.

It was a five minute walk after the bus dropped me off before I was walking under the archway taking me into the complex.

LX Factory is an old factory complex reborn as a home for creatives. It’s a hub for designers, little shops and cafes, bars and restaurants. I was looking forward to having a stroll around!

Despite it being a Monday it was pretty busy – with most tables outside restaurants doing a roaring trade. As I walked down one of the streets inside the complex I actually felt like I was in Berlin for a bit – it was probably the graffitied old industrial buildings that gave it that feel but it was a definite sense of déjà vu I experienced!

First stop inside LX Factory was an amazing bookshop – Ler Devagar. It’s an instagrammers’ dream – take a look at this!

There were thousands and thousands of books on shelves reached via old ramps and staircases. Hidden at the back upstairs as well was a jazz record store – an interesting niche! I had a good wander around looking at all the different books on display but left without making a purchase.

I walked down the street between buildings admiring bits of really cool art that adorned the walls. It was quite cool to think that once upon a time the cobbled lanes would have been full of hustle and bustle with workers.

Climbing the stairs inside the biggest building took me into a corridor filled with little stores and design studios.

I loved that they were all really niche businesses. There was an origami studio

…and a really cool looking studio – Tsuri – which made ornate paper lampshades. Being in the market for a lampshade I was desperate for a look inside, but sadly it appeared to be closed all day on Mondays.

I loved the fact a once busy building had been brought back to life – nestled beside the little shops and studios were remnants of the original decor covered in random bits of graffiti.

There was even old bits of machinery around – like this “thing” manufactured by Klimsch & Co – which after a google I thought may be a projector or something? Klimsch & Co were apparently a German mechanical engineering company which made image processing and printing equipment. It looked cool whatever it was!

Nowhere really took my fancy for lunch but in the end I settled for an outside seat at Central & Avenida. It was pretty chilled sitting outside in the sun.

For a starter I had caldo verde – a traditional Portuguese green cabbage soup with some additional slices of black pork sausage. It was really delicious but pretty filling to be honest, so I was already regretting additionally ordering a chicken and cheese sandwich!

I had a coffee with both and then set out to explore some other parts of the complex.

The top floor seemed to be full of little companies’ offices but following a corridor around I came out on to a small balcony beside a meeting room and got a great view of the 25 de April bridge.

I walked back downstairs and back out into the sun, and left LX Factory behind. I was a bit disappointed some of the more interesting shops were closed on the Monday, and was kicking myself I hadn’t gone earlier in my trip. But it was somewhere a bit different and I’d enjoyed my visit.

I boarded a bus back towards Lisbon’s centre. It was absolutely rammed with what seemed to be delegates from the Web Summit which was taking place in the city including a man who was SPEAKING AT THE TOP OF HIS VOICE about how he had done this deal that deal, couldn’t trust this person bla bla!

A bit more shopping

I hopped off at the Santos stop and walked towards the other Arches Global store I’d come across to see if I could get that elusive sweatshirt I’d seen on my first day.

Lisbon has some gorgeous art deco style buildings. I loved this theatre – the A Barraca. It was just gorgeous!

When I got to the Arches store, I was disappointed. Not only did they not have the sweatshirt I wanted either but they didn’t have a dressing room. Given there were two people in the shop I didn’t really fancy stripping off in front of them to try something else on!

I decided to walk back to the other store that I’d been in earlier in the day and tried a different sweatshirt on but in the end decided to leave it.

So it wasn’t a very constructive shopping trip, but it was pleasant just walking along Lisbon’s streets and believe it or not climbing some steep streets again!

A miradouro at sunset

The fact that Lisbon’s full of undulating hills and steep streets means it’s also chock full of miradouros – viewpoints that offer up sweeping vistas of the city.

I’d come across one or two when walking about, but with it now approaching five o’clock in the evening, I decided to jump on a tram and head to one with the hope of catching a sunset with a view.

The tram ride was quick and easy, and before long I was climbing up little streets to reach the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte.

I arrived just as golden hour was beginning – and I was far from the only one who had thought to come to Lisbon’s highest miradouro. There were young couples, groups of friends, and people with tripods all waiting to catch a view of the sun slowly sinking from the light blue sky.

I moved along the railing, frustratingly just minutes too late to get a front row spot, but got some photos as the bottom of the sky turned a light orange.

It was a pretty amazing view with just low buildings and the odd classical looking church as far as you could see. The 25 de April bridge seemed much further away than when I’d spotted it from the top floor of the LX Factory.

Clouds looked like little whisps of candy floss.

It was just a lovely, relaxed atmosphere.

As the sun began to disappear, I left the viewpoint and started the walk back into the city centre. I loved the little glimpses of normal Lisbon life I caught on the way downhill.

Once back on what seemed like the main thoroughfare of the São Vicente neighbourhood I stopped off for an ice cream – chocolate, mango and raspberry from memory – and carried on walking.

Every now and then I’d come across either another impressive view…

… or even just a little street I thought looked picturesque…

My last Lisbon meal

I’d had a bit of a think about where I wanted to go for dinner on my last night in Lisbon – and decided there was only one place for it – a destination that would also let me pick up some shopping that I’d seen on my first night on the city. I decided to head back to El Cortes Inglés and its amazing food court!

I jumped on the metro at Restauradores and loved the old 1960s style mosaics on the wall..

Less than 15 minutes later I was back in the basement of the department store. I had a full look around before deciding to pick up some Lékué items including this genius looking egg poacher – hopefully it will work!

After wandering around the food court undecided for what felt like an eternity, in the end I settled on a restaurant called Mesón de Tapas for dinner.

Obviously by the time I decided that a fairly sizeable queue had formed! But I’d seen a long line outside the restaurant on every occasion I’d visited the basement of El Cortes Inglés, so I took it to be a good sign.

I couldn’t really work out the menu – there was a section marked in a box called tapas, but given the restaurant name I couldn’t work out whether everything on the menu was actually a tapas dish or not, so I wasn’t sure how big the portions would be.

In the end I decided to go for a starter and a main course. To start I had Tortilha de chouriço e alho francês – or chorizo & leek tortilla. I wanted to go kind of traditional for my last night’s dinner!

When it arrived I couldn’t believe the size of it! It was absolutely enormous! It must be meant to be shared between two people. It wasn’t anything mind blowing, but was pretty tasty.

And yes I did manage to polish the whole thing off! I would maybe call it a tortilla pie more than a tortilla.

For the main, I went traditional again – with Bacalhau lascado em cinta crocante – or salted cod in a crispy crust. Rather shockingly I hadn’t had salted cod since I arrived in Portugal, and I felt it was about time to correct that.

Again it was a very sizeable portion!

I really struggled but again managed to finish it.

Mesón de Tapas gets really mixed reviews on TripAdvisor, and I can see why to be honest. I think it offers fair value, standard versions of traditional Spanish and Portuguese dishes, but the food isn’t amazing. The service was also a bit patchy – it took what seemed like an eternity for my starter to arrive. I think if I was looking for a meal in El Corte Inglés again I might head up to the top floor and try one of the restaurants in the “Gourmet Experience.”

My bill, not including a tip – and with just a Diet Coke as a drink – came to just €17,45 – which I felt was really reasonable for the amount of food I’d consumed – I was absolutely stuffed!

I gathered up my purchases from the department store and took one last look around – I had genuinely enjoyed my visits to the shop and its food court so was a bit sad I wouldn’t be seeing it again any time soon!

I hopped on the metro back to the hotel and had a quick walk around Avenida Liberdade before returning to the hotel.

My itinerary in Lisbon meant I hadn’t ever had time just to walk up the thoroughfare filled with designer shops and just browse or window shop – I’d have to save it for next time!

I’d had a brilliant week in Lisbon – despite a couple of disasters (which mainly involved unplanned physical exertion) – I’d found the city welcoming, interesting, different – and perhaps most importantly in November – sunny and warm. I felt like I’d seen and done absolutely loads but had never felt overwhelmed with the amount of things to see and do. Highlights for me? They’d have to be the Aljube Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belém, slightly weirdly perhaps the Colombo shopping centre and as far as food and dining went, definitely my experience at Galeto. But also it was just walking around Lisbon’s streets and neighbourhoods – seeing things that to me were new and interesting, things that made me curious and sparked my interest.

It was about quarter to eleven by now, so I was ready for bed. I set my alarm clock for the morning, and turned in for my last night’s sleep in Lisbon.

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