Travel Delights – The Little Surprises

Written by Mark McElroy

We were in Sintra, Lisbon, on a damp, foggy day. The bright yellow turrets of Pena Palace were lost in the low clouds. The gardens at Quinta da Regaliera were draped in mist. Droplets of water condensed on the lenses of my glasses, and the cobblestones were slick underfoot.

Breakfast — travesseiros, or fat pillows of pastry stuffed with eggs and sugar — had been delicious, but that stop (at Cafe a Piriquita) had been hours earlier. Now, it was almost two thirty, and stomachs were grumbling.

The problem: none of the places recommended to us were open this time of day. Aside from a few touristy joints with “English Menu!” signs posted in their windows, every cafe we passed was cold, dark, and deserted. Our friend, Paolo, had sprinted up a hill to check the status of his favorite local eatery … only to find it closed.

So, dripping wet, we wandered into the next place we happened on: a tiny, wedge-shaped cafe. The spot was so small and unexpected, I’m ashamed to say I can’t even remember the name (And despite diligent searches on Trip Advisor and Google Maps, I just can’t find it.)

We huddled around a table in the rear corner, shucking off wet coats and setting aside wet umbrellas. The owner produced two small bottles of chianti, bowls of hot soup, and, for me and for Clyde, two unique hamburgers:


At first glance, these were not the hamburgers we were looking for. But after the first bite — hey! Homemade bread … local cheese … vine-ripened tomatoes … local bacon … freshly grilled ground beef … caramelized onions … what’s not to like? We even received a huge bowl of french fries — crispy, salty, hot — on the side.

We ended up lingering in the place, enjoying the wine, conversation, and great food well into the late afternoon. It’s one of my favorite Sintra memories … completely spontaneous and totally unplanned.

Uncle Mark’s Travel Secret #104: Have a plan, but always be open to the little surprises the universe brings your way.


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Mark McElroy

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