Tuesday 21 November 2017

Remember us from last year?

Arriving in a new holiday resort is hell, so there's only one thing for it, says Pat Fitzpatrick. Go back to the same place

I'm nervous about people who go to the same place on the continent for their holidays every year. It isn't the lack of imagination -- it's the smug stories about how they're treated like locals at the village fete, or how they taught the lady in the patisserie to say go raibh maith agat. Seriously, these locals probably think you're cuckoo.

That said, the wife and myself are off to San Sebastian in Spain for the third year in a row.

Why? Because, after years of trying somewhere different every time, I've finally realised that nothing freaks me out more than the first night in a foreign city.

The problem is food. Our last meal was three hours ago, so we're now coming off the sugar buzz of either a Whopper Meal, or a chicken-with-stuffing triple-decker washed down with a small tin of Pringles. In other words, it feels like we've four minutes to live. So myself and the wife need to find a place fast.

That's not one of our core competencies. We're already a bit tense after the taxi ride from the airport, where, once more, we played out The Conversation. That's the one where you mutter, "Do you reckon he's ripping us off?", and your partner hisses, "How would I know? It's my first time here too."

Pause. And breathe.

And check into the hotel quick when you get there, and pile out the door to find some place to eat.

I've been hurt in the past by Irish eateries, so I need to check at least four restaurants before I find one I like.

The wife is a very decisive and capable person in other spheres of life but, when it comes to helping me choose a restaurant in a life-or-death situation, she's beyond hopeless.

So when I ask whether she likes the look of a place, she has only one answer: "I don't mind."

I'm so ratty from my failed sugar buzz that I often ask: "Do you mind if I die of the hunger?" Ask a stupid question, judging by the look on her face. Other times I'll try to see her "I don't mind" with one of my own.

This is met with: "Ya, but I really don't mind." Touché.

We go looking for a McDonald's, followed by enough booze to help us through the stress of the first night in a strange city.

Then we wake up the next morning with a fresh hangover and an old problem: where will we go for breakfast? This does not feel like a holiday.

It doesn't get any easier. If we're not having a lounge-by-the-pool-reading- a-book day, there is the search for something to do.

That will lead you to the following conclusions. Cathedrals are very dark. The climb up the 374 steps to the bell tower is never worth the view from the top. Seen one incredibly graphic picture of the passion of Christ, seen 'em all.

And when you come out of the cathedral after what seems like three hours, it's still only 10am. How the jaysus did that happen? Now what are we going to do? We're going to find a place we like and go back there every year. That's what we're going to do.

So we will fly to Bilbao and get the bus outside arrivals to San Sebastian. I know where the bus stop is, and that one leaves every hour on the half hour, so there is no need to spend a month on Google Earth and TripAdvisor trying to make sure I get it right.

And I know the taxi ride from the bus station to our apartment will go down by the river, so we can sit back and enjoy the view, rather than hissing at each other about getting ripped off.

Half an hour later, we'll be tucking into tapas and beer in a small place behind the beach. We know where we're going to have our dinner after that. We know both these places will be fantastic.

After that, we'll head to a dingy little green bar in the old town to drink small beers all night, served by a guy who's the image of Ricky Tomlinson in The Royle Family.

We'll wake up the next morning with a hangover, which we'll wipe out with a cafe con leche and a croissant with homemade marmalade in the café on the main street, where the guy greets us with a comic "good morning" to show that we're regulars.

Except, of course, we're not regulars. We're just tourists passing through.

So we won't be bringing him a bottle of Paddy or teaching 'Ricky Tomlinson' how to say Dia duit.

If I go native to that extent, please shoot me.


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