Boot Sales, Hippie Markets and Chinese Stores
It’s been a ‘staycation’ kind of summer for us here in Lagos, Portugal, with lots of friends stopping by and making use of our guest room (if you want your friends and family to visit, just move to Portugal!) and day trips here and there. We’ve met several new friends who have contacted us through the blog and are checking out both Portugal and the Algarve to see what all the buzz is about. We’ve also enjoyed some great conversations as well as mentally filing away travel tips and fascinating stories about future places to visit. And, over and over, while lounging by the pool, enjoying the beautiful beach near us called Praia Porto de Mos or scarfing down a meal dining with friends, we’ve congratulated ourselves, several times in fact, about our decision to skip visiting the US this year and taking a time-out to enjoy our piece of paradise.
This summer we’ve also indulged in what seems to be one of the Algarve’s favorite past-times: the hunt for a good bargain that you didn’t even know you needed.
Boot Sales: Flea markets are held in the villages and towns up and down the coast on designated days with traveling vendors. The Brits call them “Boot Sales” as the items on sale are (theoretically anyway) sold from the “boot” or trunk of the car. Usually the goods are displayed on a blanket spread on the ground although a lot of the vendors set them up on tables, too.
A boot sale we went to in the Central Algarve Region near Paderne had an herbalist displaying baskets of dried herbs and dispensing advice while a nearby couple deep-fat fried doughy rounds and dusted them with powdered sugar. It might have seemed that the heat would have dampened our appetites but – no. In fact, we were just a little tempted to split a third one between us!
Lagos’s Boot Sale is held on the first Sunday of every month and is as much a treasure hunt as a people meeting and greeting venue. We always make it an event to visit and drag a friend or two along for the fun.
This may sound strange but by far our biggest score has been a circa 1970’s, pumpkin-orange slow-cooker that weighs about 25 pounds with a Euro-plug that’s been modified from the original UK three-prong. When the seller saw my face light up at the find (slow-cookers aren’t sold in Portugal) he wouldn’t even bargain with us and we forked over the full €20 for an appliance at least 40 years old.
Chinese Shops: Every town and village we’ve visited so far in Portugal has at least one emporium (Lagos has several hiding in plain sight) literally stuffed to the gills with all sorts of paraphernalia and staffed by someone of Chinese descent, hence the name.
From floor to ceiling and usually piled in no particular order, you can find beach toys and bikini panties, thread and thermometers, shower curtains and slippers, paper goods and plasticware and Christmas décor year-round. We tried to ferret out the origins of these Portuguese versions of the old five-and-dime stores or the newer Dollar Stores and all we’ve learned (unverified so who knows?) is that there are old trade agreements between Portugal and China that allow the owners to import goods duty-free. If you have a little time, there’s no telling what bargain you’ll find poking around!
Hippie Market: Going to this flea market held the 4th Sunday of every month, near the quirky village of Barão de São João, about a twenty-minute drive from Lagos, is kind of a blast from the past for us. It’s as much fun to watch the retro European hippies, check out the “Pimp-my Ride’ caravans and make a lunch of the vegan/gluten-free pakora with mango chutney, as it is to look at the offerings for sale.
Sounds of live music and the smell of incense float in the scant summer breeze (our friends Roy and Ann hint that other smoky smells can be fired up too) and the whole scene reminds of us outdoor concerts in the 70’s when hair was long, clothing was billowy and we were weekend hippies ourselves. Wandering about the area, you watch unleashed, happy dogs nosing around the dusty field for anything edible, scruffy kids playing or holding on to young mothers who look almost as disheveled in an appealing, exotic way and men looking laid-back and chill. Like the other flea-markets we’ve been to, there’s a lot of junk and some interesting antiques and you never know what you might find as you wander round. We’ve been tempted to buy some colorful paintings and jewelry by local artists, checked out the clothes straight from Thailand, bought some fresh herbs and sipped some fruit-infused water. The vibe is infectious and we always look forward to going – even if we do stand out in our uncool, buttoned-down way!
Of course, there’s always the Saturday farmer’s market down by the bus station in Lagos but we tend to avoid it in the summer as the crowds make the tented area inside a jam-packed, chaotic and sweaty event. We prefer to wait until the cooler weather of fall and winter to visit the market and check out the fresh produce, baked goods, live chickens and rabbits in cages, and flowers, all offered at reasonable prices by friendly sellers.
It’s always a little sad to say goodbye to summer. But we’re looking forward to getting on the road again and traveling as well as taking advantage of the off-season prices for restaurants and accommodations now that the vacation crowds are returning from whence they came. Our staycation was an all-around success this year and has us thinking that this might be the way we spend our future summers. After all, why travel somewhere else during the high-season when you’re right where you want to be?
By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash