Searching, being on the look-out is a common denominator for a lot of the things we do. Mostly searching for the best and most effective ways of getting our daily work done and managing our personal homospheres. And sometimes, searching for a way not to break down while trying to manage ‘everything’.
Doing backpacking in Asia, the big search concerned the best and most unspoilt beaches. As a student it was all about searching for the most central but still cheapest flat, the most economic way to get as far away as possible in the breaks. And of course a way of getting through the studies with flying colours and managing to have a lot of fun.
Searching for fun in our (early) forties needs a slightly different planning than back in those days. It’s no longer the cheapest and best, but the best value for money. And organising a girls trip can get complicated. It’s about finding the same free time-spot as well as the right time to let husbands enjoy time alone with kids without feeling guilty leaving them behind.
A short while back we decided to take such a trip. Three friends going on a girls’ trip! Setting out to enjoy a couple of days – we were planning to plan carefully so we would not miss anything – while at the same time making sure we would be impulsive and explore the surroundings of (O)Porto. And although we kind of kicked off the impulse-thingy from the start, we didn’t really manage either to plan ahead of the trip. The only thing we managed was to get enough material to make informed choices. We thought.
Obviously when you visit for the first time a place, you’re naturally a tourist: travelling for pleasure, sightseeing and staying in hotels. But what to do if at least one of us is unwilling to be seen as an ordinary tourist?* How to disguise as quasi-locals? So again – searching for something; for worthwhile places, insider tips and coolest bars that ordinary tourists wouldn’t discover even by chance. So our tactic was to ensure somehow that our experience would be real and genuine. Not do exactly the same things as every other tourist would do. We made sure not to stay in a hotel. Instead we booked an apartment in the old part of the City. We avoided typical sightseeing. No way to catch us alive on a double-decker tourist bus while in Porto.
Somewhat paradoxical according to our “travel-value-compass” we ended up the first night and for various reasons including low blood sugar and lack of stamina by some, in one of the most touristic restaurants by the magnificent Douro-river. The duo that was playing very loudly behind our backs well-known songs in their own way (took us at least one minute to realise they were playing/singing every breath you take by the Police) did not help with the mediocre food and the really bad wine that was exclusively reserved for tourists like us. The reason of course we ended up as tourists, was that the best hotspot restaurants were fully booked until late in the evening. First free table might have been available after 23:30. This is where the low blood sugar and the lack of stamina came in.
After this first experience, we were even more set on our search for the real local thing and tuning our radars towards places locals would go and things they would do.
These ambitions lead us to be literally lost in suburbia. So for those of you who thought this blog would be about the void of living in suburbia or something in the lines of that – think again. Ploughing through dedicated in-magazines and online resources we had found this restaurant outside of the centre, in the suburbs of Porto – recommended for its rice specialties with sea food. Sufficiently off the beaten track for our taste. So after having a very quick & hasty look at the magnificent Casa de Musica we headed off to the metro. Restaurant was supposed to be 10 minute walk from the last stop of the metro line. Easy, we thought. This was supposed to be the real experience. No way a tourist would have done the same. Leaving the great old city with the plethora of sights, to go and see how the real people of Porto live, in suburbia.
Around the last few stops we started to get an iffy feeling. The surroundings outside resembled wilderness more than a concrete suburb. We didn’t really print a map. 10 minute walk we assumed wasn’t going to be a problem. When we got out of the metro we didn’t have a clue which direction to take. This was suburbia.
After asking 3 times for directions we eventually managed to find a bistro instead of the restaurant. Turned out information on the magazine was not very exact. The bistro was the spin-off of the restaurant we were looking for. No exotic rice dishes on the menu, just sandwiches. But real people, real experience and we were visibly the only non-locals.
Have we learned something from this experience. A lot. Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether you manage or not to get things done, visit a place, get a table at that fancy restaurant. At the end of the day, what counts is the experience, and the good friends you shared it with.
*= don’t ask now why it is so important. The short and psychoanalytical explanation is most probably the need of belonging to the right group namely the locals or cool strangers, but most definitely not the group of ignorant tourists that don’t really care about the local culture and real cuisine.