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Reflecting on My Lisbon Loves

Updated: Apr 8

Praça da Alegria, Lisbon

Praça da Alegria, Lisbon

In Week 28, I reflected on my favorite spots in Lisbon and why I love them so.

You Had Me At Óla

My very first day in Lisbon, I went to the Green Café and asked if I could sit outside and just have a coffee. I was greeted by the owner who responded cheerfully to my super emotional and extremely tired self, “Óla! You may sit anywhere you like and have whatever you want.” It was the soft landing I needed and the beginning of a beautiful friendship between me and the Green Café.

The Green Café remains my sanctuary in the big and sometimes crazy city of Lisbon. I cannot believe I am calling Lisbon a crazy city being straight off the boat from NYC. However, regardless of the location, establishing yourself in a new place where you don’t speak the language can be overwhelming at times. When my Lisbon life beats me up a little, a visit to the Green Café cures what ails me, especially on my self-mandated weekend trips.

Early in my time here, I decided that one day each weekend, either Saturday or Sunday morning, I would go to the café and sit on one of the benches in the window, looking out over the little square in front. I would put away the cell phone, my computer, any books, everything. It would be my time each week to sit with my thoughts and reflect on the journey I am taking.

On the weekends when I arrive, the owner takes me to my favorite window seat, always smiling as he says they have saved my spot for me. I always order the Italian toast topped with the best combination of mushrooms, olives and parmesan cheese flakes with Italian bacon on the side. Along with fresh orange juice squeezed from fruit just brought in from the Algarve region and a galão (Portuguese latte), it is my kind of weekend brunch heaven.

The Chicken Bowl, Green Café (photo by author)

This weekend, the owner threw down a challenge and said I am no longer allowed to have Italian toast unless I try something else on the menu. He says he fears at some point I will lose my love of Italian toast and not return to the café. If I order it again before trying something new, he will charge me extra.

He was quite serious. I tried hard not to laugh as I agreed to his terms on the condition that during the weekends, I can always eat Italian toast. I returned a few days later, sat at my “during the week table” by the outlet where I plug in my laptop, and ordered a chicken bowl. He seemed happy, saying that I had made an excellent choice as he headed to the register to place my order.

I just love that place. One day I am going to tell the owner that he was the first of many Portuguese people to show me kindness as I transitioned to my new life. For now, I will let him think he secured my loyalty with his tasty chicken bowl.

My Alfama Local

One day after I first moved here, I was swept up in the Alfama’s Portuguese Independence Day celebrations and found myself in a parade, dancing behind the band with a bunch of enthusiastic strangers. As we made our way through the heart of the neighborhood, we passed a nondescript spot I had not noticed before. Later, I returned and found a café frozen in time but very much a defining part of the present. This café may very well be the center of life in the Aflama.

All day, locals come in and out, having a bite to eat or a café (espresso) while they chat. I use the term “chat” loosely as the Portuguese version of chatting involves a decibel level rarely achieved in the United States. At first, I thought it was almost an art form how they speak at this volume with each other and not have something thrown at their head. I’ve almost gotten used to it but at times when they talk this way, I am afraid I might be in the wrong place when the first punch is thrown. That never happens.

Instead the locals seem to love engaging with one another in the café and having lively discussions. Other times someone pops in with a kid or two in tow, and everyone stops to play with the littles. Once, when the cafe was packed, a little girl popped behind the bar and stood, glaring angrily at the incredibly hard working and very busy guy who was trying to get the crowd what they wanted. She stared at him until he seamlessly grabbed a lollipop and delivered it to her as he continued slinging coffees and pastries. She smiled and headed out in the street to enjoy her treat.

Except Sunday when they are closed, I go there daily for a galão while I study Portuguese. At first, I felt awkward, like perhaps the locals saw me as one of the many thoughtless Americans currently turning Lisbon into something that works for them instead of appreciating it for what it is. Who was I to invade one of their surviving authentic corners of the city?

Instead, they always welcome me to sit in one of the 11 seats at the three tables and study their language while they chatter around me. I try to translate at least part of what they are saying and slowly I am starting to understand more. Often I wish I could slow their rate of speech to better comprehend the topics of discussion so I can be more involved.

If I leave the Alfama before my Portuguese is good enough to join these local chats, I’ll want to come back one day and talk with these people. I long to get to know them and hear their stories about the lives they live in this neighborhood I’ve grown to love. Most importantly, I want to get to know these kind, wonderful people who have welcomed a silent stranger.

Well, all except My Portuguese Slumlord of course. He can go toss himself in the Tejo. 🙂 .

The Clear Choice: Brooklyn Blackout (photo by author)

A Taste of My Old NYC Home

My recent Metrocard debacle required me to make frequent trips to an area of Lisbon called Liberdade. Previously, I had avoided this uber expensive neighborhood full of stores that belong on Rodeo Drive and severely overpriced restaurants. However when forced to come to all the bougie extravagance, I luckily found a lovely café on picturesque Praça da Alegria square called “Brooklyn Lisboa”. When you enter Brooklyn Lisboa, you find yourself in a cozy dining area that has a bit of a rustic feel. There is a counter you can sit at but unfortunately when I’ve been, it has always been filled with locals. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful and make you feel like you are at home. My first time there, I noticed the Brooklyn Blackout cake on the menu. Unfortunately, they were sold out that day. Bummed, I just enjoyed my galão. One afternoon, the city was beating me up a bit as I was out running errands. My feet hurt from treading on the uneven cobblestones. It was hot and my clothes were sweaty and disgusting. My Portuguese Slumlord was being his usual low-life of an excuse for a human being. So I headed to nearby Brooklyn Lisboa and with the counter filled as usual, sat at my favorite table just inside the door. Prepared to order a galão and do a little work on my computer, I noticed the cake holder had about a third of a Brooklyn Blackout left. My day was turning around! I ordered a slice and the waitress cut off a good chunk of it and brought it over. Finally I got my little taste of home! It did not disappoint and I’d argue it was better than any Brooklyn Blackout I’d had in NYC. Usually I might save some of the big slice for later but I ate every bite of this. I left one of my new happy places feeling better equipped to tackle my Lisbon life’s challenges.

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