Return to My Lisbon Life

Published by Lisa Tisdale on

In week 27, I returned to Lisbon after three weeks in the US. I had two fun parties on my schedule and a big chore to tackle.

Taco Night Street Party! (photo by Taco Enthusiast)

After a nice long trip to drive Mama Tis, I returned to Lisbon, thinking how it’s starting to feel more and more like my home. I had both work and play in the lineup for my first week back.

Taco Night at My Local

Conveniently, one of the popular places the friends I’ve made like to go is a tiny restaurant a few minute’s walk from my apartment. The place is so small, there is only room for about 10 people so tables spill onto the narrow sidewalk outside. This works fine until taxis start coming down the restricted street to collect the crowds leaving the fado shows. Then the people sitting closest to or in the street, must jump up and move their chairs so taxis can pass. I love everything about this place. It’s one of my favorite spots in not just the Alfama, but all of Lisbon.

I’ve met many people at this local gem. When I first started coming to the place, the brothers who run it made an effort to introduce me to locals. I met all kinds of people from the talented neighborhood fado singers to fellow immigrants that live in the surrounding neighborhoods. One of these new friends is Ava, the woman who plans events in the restaurant for English-speaking immigrants. As I missed the first one she invited me to, I was excited to make Taco Night, scheduled for the day after I arrived back in Lisbon.

Taco Night started late in the afternoon and lasted into the evening. Ava brought the ingredients for the tacos and Carlos, one of the brothers, assembled them in the tiny kitchen. People came and went but of course, since I live 3 minutes away, it seemed appropriate for me to stay for the entire event. 

The tacos were amazing! It was great to see old friends and make new ones. I still claim this was my welcome back to Lisbon party… 

Talented Friends! (photo by author)

Corn On The Snob 

Later that week, Rick, my fellow immigrant friend from NY, returned from his 3–week trip to the States. Rick is the host of Poker Night, one of my favorite events of the week. One week, Rick generously offered to grill burgers for Poker Night. The one request he made was for our friend Clara, to bring fresh corn from her neighborhood. She happily agreed but unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute. Apparently, the corn was the highlight of the evening for Rick, not the burgers or the poker game, and he was very disappointed.

We all checked our neighborhood stores, with Emily making the unfortunate mistake of saying she found corn in her Pingo Doce, a local supermarket chain. Rick’s reaction was “I saw something similar at Lidl. Vacuum packed. Didn’t look too appealing. What an abomination”. Needless to say Rick earned his new nickname of “Corn on the Snob”.

Rick and I were both returning from our trips to the States about the same time. However, while I brought back my favorite candies, Rick smuggled back a bunch of fresh corn. One night, he offered to make burgers again along with the fresh corn. With a little butter and cooked just right it was heaven. We skipped poker that night and broke out the instruments so the talented among us could entertain. It was such a nice way to come to back to my new home base!

My First Monthly Metrocard

One of the first things I wanted to accomplish after returning, was to finally figure out how to get a resident metrocard. This would allow me to add monthly passes to it and possibly save my feet from the harsh cobblestones.   

After identifying one of the few stations that takes these applications and finding the office inside, I kept running into obstacles. Sometimes they had stopped taking applications for the day as the line was too long. Sometimes they were out of applications. Sometimes I got an application but did not have a pen with which to fill it out or I did not have the required photo for the id card. 

At last I had what I hoped was a complete application and went in at what I thought would be an early enough time to avoid a long line. I exited the train and headed to the office to get a number. I was 45 out of 18. OMG. I tried to be optimistic but after 45 minutes, I had to pee. I paced, trying to distract myself. I passed by another station office and translated the text on the number dispenser to discover options for applying for and picking up cards. I grabbed a ticket just in case. I was number 91 out of 79. 

This is Not Going to Be Easy…

Back at the main office, the current lucky number was 32, only 14 customers cleared since I arrived. Realizing I was not going to make it to the time at which number 45 would be called, I bolted to McDonalds in search of a bathroom. I bought a tea in order to receive the bathroom code. Thankfully, a stall was empty or I may have made my own impromptu bathroom.

When I returned to the main office, they were unbelievably still on number 32. I had left the station, gone to McDonald’s, made a purchase, went to the bathroom and walked back and in all that time they had not moved the line at all. 

Frustrated and with plenty of time on my hands, I wandered to the other desk and saw they were on number 90. Immediately, my number 91 flicked up. HOORAY! I headed to window 1, handed the unfriendly woman my application, resident card and photo and watched as she reviewed my documents.

Without even a small understanding of spoken Portuguese,  I wasn’t quite sure I had applied for the right thing. However, the lady handed me a slip, pointing to the 9:30 am time dated tomorrow. I said “Aqui” and pointed to the ground and she confirmed with a slight smile that I was correct. As she’d been a bit surly throughout the confusing process, I left, feeling like getting that slight smile from her was a win. 

Good Vibes All Around

To throw a little good karma out into the world, I walked back to the main office and dangled my number 45 ticket in front of the defeated faces of the waiting crowd. After giving everyone a fair shot at seeing it, I gently dropped it on the floor, hoping someone with a long wait found the winning lottery ticket to the front of the long line. 

The next day, I came back and grabbed a number for the “pickup line”. After a short wait, I had my new card loaded with my first unlimited monthly pass. I felt such a sense of accomplishment! It’s not easy navigating the systems in a land where you don’t speak the language. Every time you succeed, it makes your new world a little smaller and more like home.

It’s so often the little things that bring the most happiness.  

Happy to be Back! (selfie by author)

NOTE: The names were changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.

Lisa Tisdale

Lisa Tisdale has traveled all over the world, writing about her experiences and making local contacts. She recently moved to Portugal, to immerse herself in a new life.


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