Holidays and holidays are Two

19 Jul
Civilisation - or complication in Oporto

Civilisation - or complication in Oporto

After roaming around the Portuguese countryside with the Belgian friends, we had deserved a bit of leisure and luxury in the city, and the closest city around was Oporto. So up North we went, stopping for some sparkling wine-tasting on the way there, and we arrived in a super-modern apartment located in the centre of the city – for almost the same price as the B&B where we stayed at the river. So that made me think about different approaches to holidays…

  • What are your minimum requirements for sleeping? A mattress on the floor or 4 stars in your room?
  • What do you (not) eat? Eat as the locals do or eating pizza and McDonalds?
  • How do you find your way around? Ask the people or take on the challenge of map-reading?
  • What to visit? Get a taste of the atmosphere or does something need to be happening? Visiting people or places?

Whatever it be, going on holidays with friends or partner is the best way to get to know them (and either get into big fights or have a lovely time).

A place to lay my head…

8 in a dorm, not my thing

8 in a dorm, not my thing

If the basic need is sleeping: a mattress would do. Some people would be happy with a bunk bed in a dormitory (as I tried in Puerto Princesa, Philippines) but that’s not my cup of tea – not my idea of a comfy night. Surely I would love not to sleep alone, but having 7 noisy backpackers coming and going all night is not what I’m longing for. I would appreciate a bit of privacy (or at least the choice of whom to share a room with).

So when I was staying at my niece’s in Portugal there was the option to share the room with the 2 daughters, lovely kids for sure (a bit challenging, true, but still). But this would also imply to wake up at the crack of dawn because the oldest one puts her alarm clock to be on time for the cartoons on TV… And sleeping with the light on, or putting up with the nightmares and panic in the dark if I’d dare to switch off the light.

A bit of privacy in my tent

A bit of privacy in my tent

So I got some privacy in the shape of a tent. The tent was semi transparent (the outer canvas was missing, so there was only the textile inner tent) and surely one could hear every fart, but we put the tent in the garage, so that created some kind of ‘room’ feeling. Still I had to share the ‘room’ with the cats, coming in at impossible times at the night and rummaging around, making noise – but nothing ear plugs won’t solve. But it takes more than just a mattress and some walls, especially if I wanted to take some time for writing or reading. So we brought some electricity into the tent via an extension cord, a little reading light, a plug for my netbook, and I was happy.

Dutch B&B in a Portuguese setting

Dutch B&B in a Portuguese setting

But I was certainly not going to suggest my friends to come camping in Portugal (especially the guy that’s used to ‘le grand luxe’ – read here) – even though many (Dutch) do… So we moved up a notch, staying at a B&B with swimming pool and gorgeous looks over the river. The rooms were basic, the shower & wc was shared, but only between the 2 rooms we had. The thing in homestays (or couchsurfing) and B&Bs of course is the ‘socialness’ of it all: you’re staying in someone’s house, so you need to chit chat (e.g. at breakfast) and you can’t just do your thing (as the owners are watching – or even taking pictures – read here).

Appartment with colours assorted with my T-shirt

Appartment with colours assorted with my T-shirt

So when we went to Oporto I had surrendered and left the command to S. He had found a gorgeous renovated one bedroom apartment in the centre of the old town, for only 10€ more than the B&B where we stayed in the countryside. The apartment was more than fully equipped (dishwasher, washing machine, fridge & freezer, sofabed for visitors, flatscreen TV, stereo, romantic candle, Oporto guidebook,,…) and decorated in a tasteful mix of modern furniture in an old building (with bare granite stone walls etc). There we could really do what we wanted, but the flipside of the coin would be the fights about who has to sleep on the couch and who has to get the bread for breakfast…

When I went back to my niece’s place, to take my mum back home, apparently my friends went on to stay in a sort of ‘apart-hotel’, where your room is an apartment, but you still get all the hotel services.

  • Every bird has it’s own song – chacun sa couleur – ieder huisje heeft zijn kruisje ;-)

Hunting and gathering – where to find food?

Guess who just went to get bread?

Guess who just went to get bread?

One of the reasons why I got tired of traveling after a few months in Asia, was because every time you arrive in a new place, you don’t only need to find a place to lay your head, but also hunt for food. Preferably ‘nice food’.

  • Us being 3 different musketeers, we also had different concepts of what is palatable and what not.

The first challenge was to combine our 3 different breakfast needs, with the only mini-market that was still open when we arrived in Oporto.

  • Fresh milk? Not in the mini-mini-market…
  • Muesli? Not in Portugal...
  • Juice? Nectar is too thick, Portuguese juice is too watery…
  • Yoghurt? With or without sugar, fruit, taste,…
  • Coffee or tea? Sugar or sweetener?
  • Eggs? Scrambled, boiled (hard or soft?), omelet or fried, well done, crispy or slivery?
  • Is ham or cheese for breakfast or not? Anyway, they had cleaned the slicing machines already so we didn’t get any…
  • It was quite an achievement that we almost got everything we needed/wanted and that we were still friends

And then there’s lunch, and oh my god, dinner as well. Maybe it would have been easier to go on a diet and only eat once a day. When walking through the streets, we saw many local eateries. In Portugal the lunch places tend to look like cafes or cafeterias, but they do a lovely Menu do Dia for 5 odd Euros, and add a desert for 1 Euro extra. For me this was ‘food heaven’ – lots of cheap & sturdy food, enough wine to make you happy and a little treat (coffee or desert) at the end. I gained 3kg by the end of it!

But ‘some of us’ did not like cafeteria style food. So we walked past many yummy Menu do Dias looking for a lunch place that would have the look and feel of a restaurant, but which served similar food (of course at a higher price).

Portuguese food - chicken & rice in vinegar -beurk

Portuguese food - chicken & rice in vinegar -beurk

One of the evenings, when an appealing pizza place was vetoed because it was badly decorated, we arrived by chance in one of the Top 100 typical restaurants of Portugal instead – wow. Textile napkins, candles, 3 glasses and 2 sets of cutlery, etc. After long deliberation (sending the waiter back 2 times because we hadn’t chosen yet) my mates had set their minds on fish for a change (Portugal is the most carnivorous country I know). But alas, the Dourade was sold out. So in the spur of the moment they just reverted to what they thought would be safe to eat: chicken. But they hadn’t read (it was written in Portuguese anyway) that the chicken dish was prepared in a clay pot with rice and vinegar. The look on their face was just priceless!

  • So they had the worst food ever in the best restaurant we visited in Portugal.

How & what to visit: run or rest?

After the cows and horses, now the humans

After the cows and horses, now the humans

So what do you do when you go on holidays? Do you just relax on the beach or on a terrace of a café with a cup’a? Or do you aim to visit all the museums, buildings and curiosities that are listed in your guidebook? I’ve probably been running around too much in Asia for too long, so I was quite happy to stay stationary, with a little drink in my hand, watching the world go by. But then if you are traveling ‘so far’, you probably also want to see a bit of the city/country. For me the soul of a country is in its people and atmosphere, and not so much in the museums. I love to wander and get lost, or meet locals. For others traveling is shopping (because different brands, cheaper prices,…).

And I love the little surprises around the corner – like the painted statues of human beings (not sure if they were man or woman – no breasts, but nothing between the legs either. I don’t mind, they had lovely bubble buts – hehe). They had cows in Zurich, horses in Brussels (for the 175 years of Belgium) and now ‘man’. What will be next?

All roads lead to Rome… euh, to Oporto?

Map reading - again

Map reading - again

One thing is knowing what you want to eat or visit, the next challenge is how to find those places. Some people simply stop the first person they see and ask for info – and as long as you don’t meet the local joker sending you astray, you probably get the best insider information and route description.

For some reason, none of our mini-gang was very much into accosting passers-by (Is it a Belgian thing? Is it because of the language? Many speak English anyway…) so we had long moments of map-reading, but we eventually arrived at our destinations. Pics below to prove it ;-)

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