Bar da Piscina de Alfama – Lisbon

One of my friends from my MA studies is in Lisbon and we decided to grab a drink and have dinner after. We meet up at Cais de Sodre and start chatting away…

She is one of those amazing creative and intelligent souls, well d’ohh she is working at Google, can sew, and is funny. Oh hell yes, I just bragged about my friend. Bless her soul!

Anyway, at one point while having dinner, she asks me whether I have something of my own here; my own friends or a routine or a go to place.

It takes me by surprise and I feel sudden panic because I haven’t built jack shit here! I look at my man who is enjoying a beetroot ricotta samosas – I am only here because he moved here for his job and we are in a long distance relationship. My job allows me to work remotely every six weeks so I show up at Lisbon. That’s about it.

I try to act cool but know that I don’t have to put up walls with her and simply admit to a no; I met people through him and know his colleagues. That’s it.

But then it hits me. I have Bar da Piscina de Alfama, the cute café of the local swimming pool in our neighborhood.

After two years of travelling up and down to Lisbon, this café has become my harbor. During a working week it is my go to place for lunch…

Realizing this, takes me to a usual day there and start explaining with great relief what it is like there…

Why relief?

Because I never want to turn into one of those people who cannot stand on their own feet and have to rely on other’s entourage. I love my shared life with my man but I gotta have my own thing… Same goes for him, I know he likes to hang out with me but he also enjoys his own things like ceramic and counter strike. Completely healthy. Well at least to us #sidetracked

Anyway, my lunch sessions at Bar da Piscina de Alfama!

My mind goes back to a lovely meal I had there before Christmas:

Lisbon’s December feels like home which makes me debate whether to sit inside or outside for a second but after the annual internal ‘another year passed, what have I done with my life’ questioning and slight tendency towards a depressed mind set in the middle of a busy work day, I decide to go inside to fill my belly with some delicious Portuguese meal and my soul with some good friendly energy. Usually I am the one who loves being left alone and isolated but I know deep inside I need their company…

Upon entering the café, I am greeted by the lovely staff.

Not to flatter myself but they seem to be happy to see me again after six weeks, well at least I am super happy to see them!

The middle-aged waiter with a nice sway in his hips when walking, comes to me with a smile and welcomes me – I feel home.

This café is so simple, yet, so full of life.

Their main customers are elderly ladies of the neighborhood who have their claimed tables (don’t dare to sit there) stopping by to have lunch usually after their grocery shopping, but as I said it is Christmas season so there is some serious showing off going on – Of what? Obviously, gifts for grandchildren.

The tourists have disappeared; usually they take over the place between April and September but now it is all locals.

At the counter I ask the waiter what he has for the daily menu. He knows that I am done with the typical food fed to tourists so he winks at me and says he has some nice home cooked oven dish with chicken. I nod and smile.

He says the usual coke zero and fries with?

My smile gets bigger and I nod again.

This is legit home and something of my own here.

I really think he could be my mother’s sassy older brother.

The kind of uncle who gives you your first Chanel bag and joint… you hear me right?

Not that I have a Chanel bag, hah! I wish.

I go sit at my usual corner and obviously start eavesdropping.

Despite my non-existing Portuguese, I figured that they were talking about daily life and their concerns for Christmas celebrations. Often all conversations end with laughter here … mainly thanks to the young waiter … Today he is showing some funny Christmas videos including cats.

My food arrives. The chicken is prepared with some vegetables, the skin is crunchy and the inside juicy. My fries are thin and crispy just the way I like them.

The young waiter barely speaks English but always smiles at me and is very patient with my mayonnaise request for my fries.

After lunch, my small espresso with milk, I don’t even have to ask him… usually.

This time he came over and said in English ‘small coffee with milk, yes?’

I was shook because he never spoke full sentences with me before in English. He knew that I wanted the small espresso with milk because I often explain with body language and say ‘lecheeee’ (es: milk) as if he is deaf.

I clearly see that he takes satisfaction in my surprised face, I manage to tell him how well I think his English is getting and he tilts his head to right and says I practice with a huge grin on his face.

The middle-aged waiter screams from the other side and says ‘I am sick of listening to his English practices, repeating words all the day’

I assure him he is doing amazing but I do feel slightly embarrassed. I have been coming to Lisbon for almost two years now and I do not speak a word.

Well to be honest, I never really wanted to learn it but still.  

Right next to the majestic Panteo Nacional, I eat at a local café and chat away with locals without speaking a word of Portuguese. Embarrassed, proud, and also quite surprised at how this whole thing played out.

Here comes the cliché but if you would have told me two years ago that I would be doing this on a regular basis I would have laughed and said why Lisbon though? I love Holland.

Well I guess, when in Rome, you gotta build like the Romans do, for yourself.