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Those Crazy Alfama Nights 

Updated: Apr 8

Alfama Night Drinks

Alfama Night Drinks

Week 20 brought some random fun nights in my Alfama neighborhood!

Poker Night in the Alfama

As life follows my new normal, I am establishing my friend groups and meeting more people every day. One of my first neighborhood friends had tried to get me to join a poker game he was starting. Once a week we’d all meet, throw in some cash and play for a few hours. Images of me sitting at a round table in a dark, smoky room, with a bunch of guys sporting expressionless faces while smoking cigars flooded my imagination. These images were followed by those of me losing my money first and exiting the game early.

I politely declined the invitation.

The next week the invitation came again. For a moment, I took leave of my senses and thought it would be fun to join. My friend had said it was a harmless game full of beginners. Everyone was learning together. How bad could it be?

As Poker Night drew closer, I started to analyze what skills I could draw on to help me be a marginal poker player and not first to lose all their money. Realizing I had none, I panic-downloaded a bunch of poker apps on my cell phone. As I was looking for a quick fix and not really approaching this problem thoughtfully, none of those apps were helpful. 

With work busy, I had no real time to prepare. The best I could do was buy mini-beers and try to keep my wits and limit my losses. As we all gathered around the poker table, I started to calm down a bit. Instead of a dark, smokey cigar atmosphere, we were using my friend’s outdoor deck, rare for Lisbon. He had the card table set up nicely with a snack table nearby. 

The first hour and a half we played dummy hands until everyone was comfortable with the game. The group of people were fun and easy going with no big personalities. They did laugh at my healthy snacks of dried apricots and almonds as they shoved a bag of potato chips at me. We laughed and lost and learned while eating too many chips. I had so much fun I’ve become a regular at poker night and even scooped the pot twice in a high-low game one night!

Fun with New Friends at Trivia Night!

Fun with New Friends at Trivia Night!

Alfama Besties for a Week

One night at one of my Alfama locals, I met a couple visiting from Raleigh, NC. At first I thought they lived in our neighborhood because they walked up to the local bar and everyone greeted them like old friends. These guys are crazy. They know the city better than some residents and they are in love with life in the Alfama like me. We bonded instantly. 

For the week, they were in the Alfama, we had so much fun! This included a trip to trivia night, where every team was cut-throat serious, talking in hushed tones as to not give away any answers. We sat on the edge of the intensity with another fun-loving woman who joined us. We all agreed that we were aiming for a solid C performance and we barely made that with only 71% of our answers correct. But we definitely had the most fun!

Our fun week as besties also included several nights at a local restaurant run by two brothers and a crazy Italian. We sit outside on little stools, enjoying the Alfama as it cools off from the hottest part of the day. Some nights went late…and we were made aware of the time as the midnight trash truck pulled up and stopped for their “break”. The sanitation workers come in, use the bathroom and enjoy a beverage on the house. My guess, and I’m totally going out on a limb here, is the brothers and the Italian never get a sanitation department fine. 

Fado Night in the Alfama (photo by author)

Front Row Seats to Fado

Finally, we had front row seats to see one of my first friends, Lara, sing in a local fado restaurant. She only sings occasionally as she is increasingly busy with her duties as lead singer in a popular band. We listened to her sing the songs of the neighborhood along with an amazing local father son team and a couple of family friends. They are all wonderful and have been very kind in trying to help me learn Portuguese. They were just as welcoming when we arrived for our dinner reservation. It has been really nice to get to know truly lovely people all over my new neighborhood and these are among the best.    

When it came time for my Raleigh Besties to head home, we were all sad. However, as they love the Alfama as much as I do, I know they will be back!

Does a Resident Card Make It Feel Different?

Recently, I met two more Alfama residents, both of whom had spent time in NYC prior to life in Lisbon. We talked about our journey to get here, the obstacles we’d faced and of course, where and when our SEF (immigration) appointments were. They had appointments nearby while I had to head all the way north for mine. However, I had already received my resident’s card in the mail and they were still waiting. 

They asked me if I somehow felt different now that I had my resident’s card. Instantly, I said it did. Absolutely. For some reason, just having that official document that says I have a right to be here as a Portuguese resident somehow feels more real. 

There is no turning back now! Lucky for me, I don’t have any regrets.

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