Serendipity and My Last Wonderful Meal in Lisbon

Visiting Lisbon was a wonderful experience. Unlike so many of the major European cities, it still has that Old World feel and ambience. Trolleys chugging up the city’s seven steep hills, plenty of outdoor cafes, interesting Portuguese architecture and interior design, many significant museums and a lively creative community. One of my favorite things I enjoyed here was just walking down all of the interesting streets and alleyways stopping in shops and cafes that looked like something good was going on inside.

My last day was spent in Belem, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city center, where I visited the magnificent St Jerome Monastery, the heroic, Monument to the Discoveries, the over the top Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art; plus shopping in the outdoor market and walking along the Tagus River watching the ships come in, all the while taking lots of photographs. There was so much to see and do. I only had time for a cup of gelato that served as my barebones lunch.

Exhausted at around 3:00pm, I decided to head back via the trolley to the city center and try and visit the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon’s celebrated antique art museum, before it closed. Unfortunately, I was out of luck when I got there. It was a Monday and this is the only day the museum is not open during the week. My dinner plans were to have my farewell meal at Belconte, Lisbon’s only Michelin two-star restaurant, which was relatively close to the museum. Even though I had forgotten to ask the concierge to book me a reservation, I felt confident I would be served, since I was in Lisbon in the off-season.

Knowing that the Portuguese eat dinner rather late, I leisurely strolled the streets of the upscale Chaido neighborhood and did a little last minute shopping trying not to think about how hungry I was. The cup of gelato had definitely worn off! One of the shops I stumbled upon was the Tiger Store, a Danish design store filled with all sorts of unique practical and not so practical, whimsical merchandise affordably priced. Check their website, www.tiger-stores.com, out to see what this brand is all about.

By 5:30 I was totally famished and headed to the restaurant with great anticipation only to be totally aggravated to find when I got there it was CLOSED for renovation. Now what? Starving, I told myself, hang in there. At that point, I refused to let myself be disappointed which leads me to the following travel tip; when things don’t go as planned when traveling, which will happen, Go With the Flow!

Trudging up the hill, I headed back to my hotel via a route through the Barrio Alto neighborhood looking for a restaurant that caught my eye where I could enjoy my final celebratory meal. This area of Lisbon is known for its restaurants and happening nightlife. Be as it may, I couldn’t find a place where I wanted to eat. By this time my patience was really being tested. Maybe I was so tired and hungry, I couldn’t make a decision?

As things usually go when you are at your “rope’s end,” up pops just the right solution. At the top of the hill next to the Sao Roque Church/Museum and Square was a small sign advertising the Adega De Sao Roque. I looked at the menu and saw it served grilled sardines, the only traditional Portuguese dish I hadn’t been able to try the entire week I was in Lisbon. Things were looking up! I peeked in the quaint, cozy restaurant and asked if they were open? A cordial, elderly waiter invited me in and said I was their first guest of the evening. Relieved, I was seated and began to wind down.  

As I waited for the menu, I started to study the eclectic interior decor of the restaurant. One wall had a beautiful tile mural depicting seafood of the area. Likewise, the other walls were filled with art showcasing religious and Portuguese cultural subjects such a fado singers and bullfighters. The most distinctive things about the interior were the many soccer teams' flags, jerseys, memorabilia and photos of soccer stars that literally filled every inch of the other walls. What this told me was this must be a popular eating place for the locals, which is always a good sign. I was beginning to get excited about my forthcoming solo dining experience. Maybe this was the perfect place for my farewell meal!

Since I was the restaurant’s first customer, I received a little extra attention. Without even ordering, a basket of sourdough bread, cheese and olive spread was served which I immediately devoured. Likewise, I didn’t even really look at the menu. I knew what I wanted, grilled sardines. The waiter shared the dish came with boiled potatoes and a mixed salad, which sounded perfect at the time. He suggested I have a half bottle of their vinho verde, white/Portuguese green wine, to complement my meal. My mood was beginning to change significantly!

Sipping my soothing glass of vinho verde while waiting for my meal, I continued to study everything about this authentic Portuguese eatery. Because you have to go down a few steps to enter, I surmised this could have been some sort of cellar at one time and in fact, I found out in doing my research on this place for my blog post that “adega” means cellar. The attractive checked tablecloths with protective white paper on top gave the tables an inviting presentation because they were simple, comfortable and attractive.

On one end of the restaurant tucked in an alcove was the fully supplied bar decorated with wine barrels, olive presses and other winemaking paraphernalia. One of the most unusual things that caught my eye was the large ham hock that supplied the fresh prosciutto that was available to Adega De Sao Roque’s guests. In addition, on the other end in front of the bar was a large lobster tank filled with live lobsters.

Within ten minutes of ordering, I received my grilled sardines entre. I was thoroughly delighted. Cooked just right and extremely tasty, I slowed down and savored this special meal. Locals began to come in and take what I gathered were their “regular” tables. I learned later that evening fado, a traditional Portuguese song and music genre, would be performed here free of charge for the patrons.

Dining solo is one of the biggest challenges for the solo traveler. It is “the thing” that gives some solos the most anxiety. Choosing a restaurant that is solo friendly goes a long way in overcoming this reservation. Friendly service, good seating placement, delicious food, comfortable interiors with a solo-friendly design, music and an overall air of “happiness” among the diners are a few of the qualities I look for when determining if a restaurant is suited for solos. Adega De Sao Roque possessed all of these benchmarks at a high level.

 Fully satisfied with no trace of desire for more food or drink, I left with fond, vivid memories of my last dinner in Lisbon. On my way back to the hotel down a steep hill, I enjoyed the lively street scene and the magnificent view of the city at night, especially the lit up Castelo de Sao Jorge on another one of Lisbon’s seven hills. After realizing my time here was over, I knew I would be leaving this wonderful Old World European city with many memorable moments. 

I will end this blog post on a philosophical note. Sometimes when traveling, serendipity can lead to what I call “magical moments,” those unexpected occurrences you don’t plan that turn out to be special. I have found these times usually surface as a result of something or things going totally awry. My advice to all solo travelers is know even your most well-thought out plans will not always pan out. When this occurs, regain your senses, go with the flow and let fate step in. Isn’t this how many of the most famous Portuguese explorers stumbled upon some of the world’s undiscovered continents? As always, Safe and Happy Solo Travels! 

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