Holidays from Heaven and Hell

The Weasel is not very good at holidays. To some extent my life has been one long holiday, such as living on a narrowboat for two years or becoming a small-holder (very small). Living in Scotland, one feels one is perpetually on holiday, for good and bad reasons. But officially one is supposed to "go on holiday". Now, I don't know about you but this idea fills me with terror. How do you go about investing massive amounts of cash in something so unknown and so uncertain to have a good ending, without feeling just a bit of trepidation?

The Telegraph has for years run a column where they interview celebs about hols from heaven and hell. Celebs of course like to go where nobody will hassle them, but for the rest of us it always seems to be that lurking sense of disappointment that, not only are we not recognised, but we are the people who get the table next to the lavatory and a hotel that is run by people who had to get a whole new identity because they are on the run from Interpol.

I cannot say that I have ever been truly, constantly happy on holiday. My favourite time was a month Interailing when I was in my twenties. I could visit, let's say, Vienna, decide that it wasn't quite as exciting as Holly Martins found it, and simply get on a Wagons Lits sleeper to Belgrade. Or I could fall in love again with a girl from Sweden and take her offer up of "if ever you are in Stockholm, look me up". This type of holiday is characterised by spontaneity, serendipity and infinite choice.

These days you can control the horror, to some extent. I use tripadvisor a lot. It has proved remarkably good at helping us avoid disaster and those reviews that were good, generally are reliable. I don't like hotels. Even when I was being paid to be in them with expenses, I hated them. After the first two days, you just fancy egg and chips and a glass of beer, and the symphony of fruits de mer on a bed of something squirted onto the plate becomes an effort, not a pleasure. So, these days, for longer sorties, we prefer self-catering. Not that that is without its horrors. Over 20 years ago I booked a luxury gite for a week, only to find that cooker did not work and the open fire needed logs that were not supplied. It rained all week. We failed to book a restaurant on Sunday and ended up paying £100 for a chicken leg on a plate, drenched in what looked like cat sick. Young Weasel cut his finger open on the dishwasher, We were robbed, I backed the car into a post, and we got stopped at customs in Dover and had everything ransacked, up to (but not including) the anal probe.

Funnily enough, it was that trip which endeared me to France. People were so helpful and friendly. When we needed a doctor, on a Sunday, we found a delightful one who tended Young Weasel's finger and waved us away without charge. He was in the middle of his lunch. On arriving at a plastic hotel one night, it was late and we asked the night porter if there was food. He expressed initial alarm and then produced some lovely baguettes. The morning after, all the cars in the car park had been smashed and they had taken obvious stuff like trainers and raybans, but my hand-made old brogues remained. Whilst in Switzerland I drenched myself in the contents of a little chocolate cup of cream and panicking, asked for an "assiette" instead of a serviette and the lady behind the counter gave me a moist towel instead of a plate. That took courage, humour and compassion. I wanted to kiss her.

The moral and lesson of all of this is this: The best places are not those that are good when all is well. The best places are those places that will support you when there is a problem.

Below, I have a not comprehensive list, based solely upon my own experience, of places you can trust if you are in a fix, and places you can't. I wonder if your experiences tally?

France - Trust
Spain - Cannot Trust
Scandinavia - Trust
Germany - sort of Trust, as long as you are white and drive a nice car.
Scotland - Not as a holidaymaker.
North Africa - Don't go.
Switzerland - Trust
Italy - Borderline - it pays to make friends with the locals.

There are plenty of gaps for my wonderfully well-travelled readers to fill in.

11 comments:

Richard said...

I love holidays - in fact, I live for them. I can't afford anything expensive, but then it depends how you define 'holiday' I suppose. Getting away from routine and relaxing, preferably somewhere hot or at least warm, good food and a space to relax with a drink, good conversation with strangers, the more 'foreign' the better. Trips on the bike aside (which are always categorised as fun in my mental library anyway), we take the caravan somewhere hot and chill out. The only prescription is that the site mustn't be full of Brits. Barbecue every night, bottles of wine, meeting French and German and Dutch people and getting to know them - and it must suit me, because although I drink and eat as much as I like, I always lose weight and feel fit.

Like you, I have found people abroad always helpful and kind, although with the few inevitable arses that every nation has. I do make the effort to speak to them in their own language, however, and I think that helps.

French - lovely people, trustworthy, slightly formal.
Italians - noisy and seemingly argumentative, but happy, warm and open and usually charming when they stop waving their arms about.
Germans - more formal, but contrary to stereotype, those I have met and got to know have had a very similar sense of humour to my own. The only times I have been incapable through laughing have been with Germans.
Danes - generous, civilised, helpful, comments above on humour apply to them too.
Other nations - we shall see.

Richard said...

Oops - forgot to mention the Dutch. Nicest people you can meet. They seem to like the Brits, too, which is good.

Bob said...

Poland - don't trust . mainly crooks
Barcelona - don't trust -crooks
Thailand - quite trustful.
Canada - trustful
Australia - trustful
Middle East - don't trust
Germany - trustful

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Richard, I tend to concur with your comments. I lived in Holland for a bit, and you are right, they seem to like us, but it helps to stay with local friends, which I did. Lekke!

As for caravans - yes, I have considered getting one because it is like interailing for oldies. Same freedom, same spontaneity. Wonderful, unless you get stuck behind one in the Scottish Highlands.

King Athelstan said...

France trust
Germany trust
Western Scotland trust
Cyprus Don't trust
USA Do your homework but always helpful and friendly
Spain mostly trust
Canada trust
Middle East watch your back
Africa with my bowels you must be joking
Wales great but better if you learn the language.

strapworld said...

WW. Excellent post.

I, too, dislike holidays. Having spent far too many in the UK with small children, in the rain, going from costly car park to costly car park looking for something to keep their attention!

Do not foget that those 'celebrities' are paid for those articles and the hotels, airlines etc are aware that they will be the subject of an article!

Perhaps we should all arrive in hotels and let them believe we are Michelin Guide agents?

I recall a holiday with my parents and sister when we were taken to Rhyl!! Parents were promised a seaview. If we placed a chair on the bed and were held up to the windown we could just about see the sea! Which, really, sums up British holidays, overpriced and shocking value.

Whilst agreeing to your personal assesments of different countries. We do love Italy and have found both in Cities and rural that the people have been extremely friendly and accomodating. And, sadly, we do not speak Italian but I do rather fetching hand signals!

I would like to add Singapore and Australia as we now go there every two years (save up). Son lives in melbourne and we enjoy a stay in Singapore when returning.

May I take this opportunity in wishing you and yours a Happy Christmas and New Year. Our shops, here in Wales, have been playing christmas songs (NOT Christian carols!) for weeks now.

Also a Happy Easter.

ps. I note nobody mentions Wales.
That sums it up nicely.

Ruth@VS said...

I'm not a big fan of holidays, and I now have an excuse not to go away since I run my own business single-handed, so long weekends are de rigeur.
I would agree with you on France, though with my good French I tended to pass for French which meant I was treated better than, say, Americans. Germany also good. Spain varies, Portugal bad. USA yuk, not going back there ever, too many crooks.
I'd have to agree with you on Scotland. While individual Scots are nice they suffer collectively with a chip on the shoulder about the English. This makes holidaying or working in Scotland difficult as they have an inbuilt desire to (a) disagree with you and (b) do things differently to the English on principle and for no other good reason.

Richard said...

I have a strangely ambiguous relationship with caravans. I'm quiter fond of ours, and the more battered it gets the better I like it. Being on a campsite somewhere hot, sitting in the awning drinking beer, is pretty close to heaven. But I hate towing the damn thing, and as for other people's caravans, I hate them with a vengeance. One of the reasons I like to get away from Brits is that they all seem to want to discuss Thetford toilets and noseweights, and that makes me lose the will to live.

@Athelstan - come to sunny Pembrokeshire. even the locals here can't see why anyone would want to speak Welsh!

@strapworld - I work in a tourism business, and I can confirm that if any celebs, VIPs or journalists are on site, all staff know about it within minutes, and although we do our best for all guests, we try to be faultless for the VIPs. Sound commercial reasons!

Jim Baxter said...

I don't like hotels much - never get a proper sleep in hotels, although I much prefer them to 'staying with friends'. The friends much prefer me staying in hotels too.

I used to quite like The Algonquin in New York - handy for breakfast in the Sixth Avenue delis - corned beef hash, eggs over easy, kwoffee, keep it comin hon, and pickles - then the latest chain to own it varnished the rosewood in the Rose Room. Varnished it to a molasses colour.

That's when I finally gave up on America.

strapworld said...

Jim Baxter is right about hotels. I remember arriving at a hotel in Manchester, to be told that I would be sharing my room with a colleague, who had not as yet arrived. I said this was highly embarrasing as my colleague had very disgusting habits!

Anyway, they could not change the room and after an hour or so my colleague arrived in the room and told me how rude and abrupt the receptionist had been, even telling him any problems and he would be asked to leave! He could not understand why I laughed and did not share his indignation.

I forgot to mention New Zealand, still in the fifties, but very warm people.

Dave said...

My wife won't fly or go on a boat- oh and she hates long tunnels, so it narrows our choice of holiday destination down to Whitby and Cornwall.
We did manage the Isle of Wight once, but only because was persuaded that the ferry wouldn'f actually be out of sight of land, and we went to the Isles of Scilly (but shouldn't have bothered as it was closed.)
Hotels? Nah
Self catering is good if the house is comforable. Most places are furnished either from junk shops or IKEA, so comfort is uncertain.
Our best holidays were when we just headed west with just a tent and a couple of sleeping bags. Down the M5, turn off at Taunton and head for the coast. One year it's north, the next it's south. Drive until you reach the sea, find a campsite with a sea view. Stay until you're bored. Drive on down the coast. Find another campsite with a sea view. Repeat as necessary. Avoid Newquay.
Arrive near Lands End after a week or ten days. Eat a pasty and Cornish cream tea. Head home up the A30 & M5. No phone, no TV, no internet. Go to bed when it's dark or visit the local.
Incredibly stress free.