Living, as I do, on the Tagus’ north side, you are very much immersed in what I suppose you can call the heart of Lisbon. Indeed, I live a little further north than the centre and so, most of my “fun” happens in the usual hot spots from Martim Moniz, through Baixa, to Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodré. As a result, it’s easy to forget that the tiny grey and white dots of buildings across the sprawling estuary of the Tagus are, in fact, also Lisbon. So, a week or so ago, I decided to hop over and see what it’s all about. One huge incentive for this was that you get to go by boat.
Popping out of the metro at Cais do Sodré, it’s a matter of just a short walk across the road to the water’s edge and the long, narrow boarding corridor of the boat terminal. On arrival, I realised that I didn’t even know which port on the other side I wanted to go to. There are 3 accessible from Cais, so I needed to find a map. I found a map, decided which boat I thought was necessary, then checked with a barrel-chested, moustachioed boat company employee, so as not to end up on a displeasure cruise, miles from anywhere. The next stop was confirmed as Cacilhas. A mere 10 minutes away and with boats departing every 15 minutes during the day at the odd, but reasonable price of EUR 1.18, we were all set.
Once aboard and settled on the upper deck, the boat quickly pulled away from the shore and out towards the west, sweeping past a container ship being loaded or unloaded of its cargo, dwarfing the people and buildings around it and, in contrast, at the other side a sailed pleasure cruiser drifted silently by.
Moving on from there, smooth sailing on the calm water, we picked up a wonderful view of the 25th April bridge and the towering statue of Jesus, in the dying light of the winter sun and, as we pulled into the port at Cacilhas, a somewhat unnerving view of ruined and abandoned storage facilities along the harbour wall.
Fortunately, as we disembarked, it became abundantly clear that these old warehouses were just about all that was in bad shape over the river. Starving, we immediately began to look at restaurants on the waterfront. Without having done any research on where to eat, we spotted a place with low prices and a focus on fresh seafood and took a gamble. As it turned out, the Estrela do Sul furnished us with excellent mackerel and fried cuttlefish dishes, served with generous side salads, beers and coffee for under 18 Euros, so we were very happy with our choice.
Our hunger sated, we decided to walk around the port a bit and take it all in. On the left hand side as you arrive, is the sailing club and, behind it, an old submarine in a dry dock, with a tall ship stationed behind it. we spotted a makeshift miradouro, above some shops and decided to take a look. Scrambling up the stairs, alongside some teetering allotments, with jolly old folk tending their plants and offering greetings to anyone that passed by, we reached the top and surveyed the view in front of us. The tall ship to the right, a bustling metrotram station in front and, behind it, a golden view of the centre of Lisbon from across the water.
From the port of Cacilhas, there are 4 ways you can go. One is straight back into the water, towards the heart of Lisbon, another is up the hill road on one of the metrotrams or buses from the port and the other two – the more interesting options if you’re on foot – are to walk along the water’s edge, through the park towards the statue of Jesus, or to take the narrow path up between the buidlings, past a parade of restaurants, shops with menial things like paint, to more interesting fare, like hand made gifts and crafts. We stopped in a few places, looking for Christmas presents, but didn’t find anything specific. We did, though, find a pharmacy with its own cat. Sadly we didn’t take any pictures. The only monuments of note were at the beginning of the path, a drinking fountain with inscriptions and a traditional, brightly painted church.
We wandered up into the centre of the Almada district, which seemed to be alive with people, but still quite small in scale. There were a lot of old folks outside cafés chewing the fat and drinking coffee with a cigarette. It certainly all felt more traditional than over the other side of the river, and much less impacted by tourism. As night fell, we decided to head back via a bar. For this we chose a quirky bike repair shop/lounge bar combo called Mundo fixie. It was a thoroughly odd sort of place, in that it had the most wonderfully intense 1970s/80s flocked wallpaper, with antique furniture, some of which was in great condition – some of it less so, and then bikes and bits of bikes everywhere. We found a comfy old sofa, sat down and ordered a couple glasses of wine. They were fully engaged in the spirit of Christmas and so there was quite traditional Christmas music and a pleasant ambience. I did kind of want to buy a bike, so they must be doing something right. The guy who served us was really accommodating and friendly and the brunch menu, in particular, made me think I should come back here at some point.
After this all that was left was to walk back to the boat and return to our side of the river, and not without a nice display of Cacilhas’ Christmas lights. If you haven’t been, it’s really worth a visit.