Joeblade

A misanthrope abroad

Back in 2010 I wrote about how hard I found it to go on holiday for a variety of reasons, but the last few years has seen me get steadily more adventurous, though not so adventurous that I don’t retain my inherent hostility towards people the entire time I’m away. People don’t get suddenly more tolerable just because I’m carrying Euros instead of Pounds, so my holidays tend to be structured to avoid other people as much as possible while still staying within the walls of civilisation, with its soothing flow of coffee and reassuring presence of flushing toilets.

I used to be reluctant to go abroad as I can only speak English, which initially became a non-issue when I realised how many people abroad speak English, then continued to be a non-issue when I remembered how infrequently I speak to anybody anyway, English or not. It’s not as if I’m travelling to places with bizarre customs and incomprehensible rules of etiquette, I’m generally only going to Western Europe. I get through most of my transactions in the UK with nods and mumbles and the assumption that if I point at things on a menu or on a shelf and then hand over enough money eventually I’ll get what I want and be allowed to leave; this is true outside of the UK as well. By and large, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is really all you need, maybe with a nod and a smile.

Avoiding people in the morning is straightforward enough, and though it’s tempting to get a room service breakfast, what this means is you’re actually guaranteeing encountering another person, and for me also means making sure I’m up in time, showered, groomed, room tided, bed made, and throwing open the windows or turning the aircon up or whatever else needs to happen to make the room not feel like someone’s just spent a night in it. I guess most people just open the door in their dressing gown with their bed hair and night breath and eat breakfast in bed but I don’t want the hotel staff seeing me like that; not only would it reveal to them that, yes, I’m a human being after all, but they probably have to put up with shit like that from everyone else all the time. This reasoning is why I also make sure the room is as tidy as possible for housekeeping, though I draw the line at folding the end of the toilet roll.

With a room service breakfast coming with all the stress of having an early morning visit from a parent, I usually go for the buffet. The typical hotel buffet breakfast is generally easy to navigate, and better than a Bed & Breakfast breakfast because in a hotel nobody expects you to make small talk with the other guests; the only stress point is if you want to use the baffling communal toaster, randomly spinning dials and hoping you’re not ending up with toast that’s either floppy or burnt while a queue of guests waits for their turn. When at all possible, avoid toast; my European breakfasts tend to consist of bread rolls, cheese, cold meat, fruit and perplexing European yogurts that all seem to be made by Danone and it’s a 50/50 chance as to whether it’s yogurt or some godforsaken yogurt-like yogurt substitute.

With breakfast out of the way, it’s best to get out and about early, before the regular tourist hordes pour out and clog the quaint cobbled streets like so much bacon fat. The sort of things I might do in the UK translate readily to the continent, i.e., long walks in parks or around old buildings and streets, never being part of those weird tour groups following a leader who tells them a few glancing facts about the area with less depth than you’d get if you read the Wikipedia page on the subject, before waving an umbrella in the air and hurriedly moving everyone on. Cinema abroad works fine as well, so long as the film has foreign-language subtitles instead of foreign-language dubbing. That said, it’s still cinema, so best kept to the early hours to lower the odds of there being other people there.

After being out and about since 9 or 10 in the morning I’ll start to wilt around 3 or 4, particularly if I’ve failed to get anything to eat apart from chips or sweets, and like many tourists I’ll head back to my hotel to rest and recuperate before going out again in the evening, except I’ll stay in. Why the hell would I go back out? I don’t go out in the evening when I’m at home either, it’s a terrible time to go out. People everywhere, noisy and drinking and roaming in packs with a shimmer of hormones steaming off every one in the heat.

No; evenings are not a time for me to be out. As soon as the nightlife vibe kicks in I react like Nosferatu to the morning sun and retreat to safety, hissing as I go. I have tried eating out in the evening a couple of times: in Belgium I’ve gone as far as walking past bars and restaurants and every time I’ve been put off by the horde of smiling, friendly, welcoming people surrounding every place, all looking up in unison as I approach. I fared better in Amsterdam as you get fewer moats of people thanks to the abundance of canals forming actual moats, but realistically, I’m ordering in.

The typical room service menu is usually pretty limited, but I can live with that because what I might lack in variety I’m making up for with STAYING IN. It’s bliss; a TV, air conditioning, my book, my laptop, wifi, my 3DS. It’s like coming home after a day out except better as I don’t have to cook and don’t have to wash up afterwards. It’s true that I might be missing out on some local speciality but, again, it’s not like I’ve come so far away from the UK that the local speciality isn’t something recognisably meat-and-potato-based. I stayed in one hotel that let me order room service through an app on the TV; the only way that could have been improved would have been by installing a dumb waiter in every room for the food delivery.

Sometimes my room even has a decent view, though I made a tactical error on my latest holiday by getting a room with a canal view, which sounds lovely until you find that “Hey, let’s go and hang out by the canal!” is what every young person in the city thinks as soon as it’s past 7pm, some of them even thoughtfully bringing their own music so they could party outdoors until dawn. Next time I have to be specific: give me a room as far away from everyone else as possible, preferably one facing a wall.

By Paul Haine, in