No country for old swimming men

Oh Gang, I feel like I’m doing you wrong. I’ve been a little slack on the posting since I’ve been in DC and this week Hot Latin Boy and I are heading to Europe, for which we have done exactly no planning. Since we’ll be in Barcelona and Rome, our conversation went a little like this:

Hey, we’re going to Spain and Italy. We speak Spanish, right?

Right.

Does one of us speak Italian?

I can say “No, the old men are not swimming.” Considering there will probably be a lot of old men around not swimming, that will definitely come in handy.

Great. Looks like we’re set.

Fantastico.

And that’s about it. Since we’re doing a combination of pleasure traveling, business meetings and scouting locations for our next humble abode once we decide to leave Mexico, we try to stick to living like locals do, even on a very short trip. It’s never served me wrong, and I don’t come home with all those same boring photos of standing in front of whatever historic landmark every other tourist feels obliged to take.

So what’s your favorite travel tip or quirk? I’m going to be thin on the ground this week, but I’ll try to post a bit more regularly and of course I’m moderating comments and answering queries here and at Manolo’s Shoeblog.

24 Responses to “No country for old swimming men”

  1. txbunny November 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    Carry anything and everything for illness or ailments.

    That means there is a 1 gal zip lock bag in my carry on with a one month supply of any prescription drugs along with homeopathic cold and flu stuff, over the counter allergy meds (Zyrtec), Tylenol, Aleive, Tums, anti-acid (Pepcid AC), Immodium, 2 elastic bandage wraps with safety pins, band-aids with antibiotics already on them, antibacterial wipes, 5-HTP (for sleep when resetting body clock), earplugs, footglide, bodyglide, sunscreen, lip balm, nail clippers, small pkg or tissues. Some countries I add water purification tablets. I’, thinking I need to add potassium tablets and/or powdered Gatorade packets.

    When feeling bad, I find it better to just be prepared rather than interrupt a trip to trace down a pharmacy. Also many counties in Asia do not even carry many of the over the counter things we take for granted in the US. In latin america and europe this is less of an issue.

  2. sony_b November 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    Little bits of liquids can go in old contact lens cases – night cream, foundation, etc. and the TSA doesn’t count them in your little baggie-o-stuff. If you don’t tell, I won’t.

  3. Rebekka November 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Heels + cobblestones = advanced fashion. If you don’t know what you’re doing, they WILL break you. Or your shoes.

  4. Margaret November 13, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    Always learn how to say Hello, Goodbye, Please and Thank You in the language of the place you will be visiting.

    Drink plenty water.

  5. Teteatete November 13, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    I love going to wherever the locals go for foodstuffs and beverages and buy a selection of whatever looks good. Bonus points for things I haven’t tried before. I’ll then find the nearest park and have my picnic and people watch. I’ve done this in about 8 countries and it’s always a wonderful experience.

  6. Thea November 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    Ditto on shopping local grocery stores. It’s always fun to see what looks good and what’s different. How else would I know that mayonaise comes in toothpaste type tubes in Norway.

    Double ditto on heels and cobblestones. In Rome local girls can simultaneously talk on a cell phone, smoke a cigarette, swig an expresso, cuddle their purse dog and hail a cab while walking in stilettos on cobblestone. I cannot.

  7. klee November 13, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    Having lived in Rome many years:

    Gelato: settimo gelo is the best, but north of the vatican and out of the way. Giolitti near the Pantheon and San Crispino near Trevi both good.
    Amatriciana is a must-eat pasta, there are a couple of places near the spanish steps that make good ones.
    San Clemente (near the colleseum and Nero’s pad) is my favorite church: medival (good cosmati work), go in the back, down steps to a 6th century church, another flight down and you’re in a 1st century temple of Mithra (popular with roman soldiers, the feast day was December 25th-coincidence?). History of God in one spot.

    General tip:
    learn to say “What do you recommend?” or “what is the house specialty?”. Usually leads to something interesting and tasty.

    Also: instead of just launching into english, I learn to say
    “I’m sorry, I don’t speak ____, could we speak english?” Even the crankiest waiter will appreciate your approach and make their best effort to speak english. Manners!

  8. jason November 14, 2012 at 12:33 am #

    gee, I wish I were as cosmopolitan as your other readers, but I’ve only been out of the country once. That said, I like the idea of going to the grocery….just seeing all the breakfast cereal aisle in Paris was worth the trip for me :)

  9. A November 14, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    I always travel with a big silk scarf. Big enough to use as an airplane blanket or a caftan, but silk, so it also knots into a scarf on cold days.

  10. Trudy November 14, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    In Barcelona, please try the Mohitos at Boadas http://www.spottedbylocals.com/barcelona/boadas/

    If you are lucky, you’ll be served by one of the old-school bartenders who make the cocktails with love & care. If you’re extra-lucky, you’ll be served by the rather uniquely be-wigged manageress, who may or may not be a rather fabulously cross dressing male.

    Also, sketches on the wall by Picasso!

  11. marvel November 14, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Klee, do you ever read Ngaio Marsh mysteries? She has one titled “When in Rome” which is set in what sounds like San Clemente.

  12. Thea November 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    Laundry mats are fun too

  13. txbunny November 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    I would add to the list hardware stores, book stores, and flea markets. In Asia I would add convenience stores (7/11s) and equivalent dollar stores.

    In Paris I went to BHV where the basement is a hugh hardware store – french equivalent of Ace in the US. Just amazing what they have to repair anything. Also found replacement metric sized locks and keys for my old french liquor cabinet back home (yep I’m the girl that would travel to Paris with an 80+ yr old broken lock to find replacements). I have gone to hardware stores for 16 yrs now – this might be my inner engineer showing.

    In Japan I went to the 100 yen store and it was fascinating to what everyday household items were used as well as the design esthetic used (most things were a variation of cutsie and colorful).

    If I am thinking about purchasing something from a country, I will go to a flea market or 2nd hand store. This is how I wound up with a set of 19th century dinner knifes from France and an antique obi from Japan.

  14. Lora November 14, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    “…we try to stick to living like locals do, even on a very short trip.” So, okay, I’m feeling a little dull here, but how do you manage this on a short trip? Some of the answers that others have left are wonderful clues, but I have found on short trips that I am almost always interested in the “touristy” places and they end up taking most all my time. Thanks!

  15. klee November 14, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    @Marvel: Marsh looks interesting, thanks for the tip!

  16. marvel November 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    @Klee: I have heard that Ngaio Marsh ranks with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham as the top “Golden Age of Mystery” authors, which are my personal favorites.

    I was struck by your description of San Clemente, as it matches the description of the critical location in Marsh’s novel, but I never knew if it was a real place in Rome or if Marsh made it up for her book.

  17. Amy November 15, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    As I always pack way too darn much and must check baggage, I always toss an extra shirt, bra, undies, and socks in my carry on. After living in small villages in Belgium (which did not stock my special size!) for 6 days on 2 shirts, undies, bras, socks; I realized its a necessity.

    Also, love visiting local grocers, bakeries, and off the beaten path museums. I purchased some beautiful pottery at a pork museum.

    Plus, always try to speak the language. The locals will usually be happier to help you if you just try. Ended up being spoiled by a chocolatier after I horribly butchered the french language asking about his molding process.

  18. Thea November 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    @Lora, you generally don’t have to give up your tourist agenda to add in a few local items. I had a memorably funny time trying to find a shower cap in central Rome. The shop attendent and I had each other in giggle fits trying to 1. pantomime and 2. understand pandomiming “shower cap”

  19. Rubiatonta November 19, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    In Barcelona, try to find time to visit the Gracia neighborhood, which is off the tourist track and full of fun boutiques, etc., that the locals love.

    When visiting Barna this summer, I had a wonderful informal dinner with the locals at El Mordisco (Paseo de la Concepción, 10, off Passeig de Gracia in the heart of the Eixample) — though all the restaurants by the Tragaluz group are worth a visit. You can drool at http://www.grupotragaluz.com

  20. Susan November 19, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    “A pointing finger is worth a month of Berlitz.” Bette Midler (from her Divine Miss M phase)

  21. the gold digger November 21, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Books. Cheap paperbacks from the library sale or Goodwill. Read them and toss them. I live in fear of being stuck on a long airplane ride with nothing to read but the Skymall catalogue.

  22. Joia November 22, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Take half the stuff and twice the money. Especially if you’re prone to impulsive side trips (like, say, a train to Figueres to see Dali’s homuseum).

    In that vein, consider mailing dirty laundry home. Bags seems to get heavier as you go (even if you’re not purchasing souvenirs!), and getting rid of that extra bulk can be freeing.

  23. La Petite Acadienne November 25, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    Speaking the language really CAN make a difference between a nice trip and a memorable one. While in Paris, my husband’s grandfather had an attack of traveler’s complaint. I swear, it was the quintessential Parisian moment to be standing in Paris’ oldest pharmacy, telling the elderly pharmacist all about my poor traveling companion’s raging diarrhea, and having her listen and exclaim with the most sincere interest.

    Favourite travel tip is really just to make sure that everything you pack goes with everything else. Stick with neutrals, and bring scarves for colour. And after you’ve been there a few days, don’t be afraid to spend a few hours apart from your travelling companion, each doing your own thing for awhile. There’s something to be said for exploring a place completely solo (obviously, don’t do this if you’re anywhere unsafe).