Traveling solo presents a range of challenges.
Like eating dinner by myself.
I remember the first time.
I was in Inverness, Scotland on a work trip, few years ago where I had decided to check out Hootenanny- a local bar that does great live music and also serves lip smacking Thai food.
Remember: These were in the days before social media, so no phone to fiddle with and try look busy.
Just an old magazine to flick through and a dull, boring holiday cottage brochures to get me through the meal.
It do not help that the place was packed – one family and a lot of couples.
Warning: I think Wednesday is date night in Inverness.
Food got served after what seemed an eternity.
Once I could not stand looking at the pictures of the cottages, I finally looked around and everyone seemed to be looking lovingly at each other.
I felt I had stumbled into in an orgy of happiness.
I passed some of the time, people watching.
I cannot lipread but….you know that feeling when you’re in a crowd on your own and everyone looks animated, silvery sound of laughter ringing in your ears.
Everyone seems to be saying something deeply funny or profoundly interesting.
I never remember eating dinner more quickly.
Times have changed since.
Nowadays, I have a smartphone.
I’m such a social being 🙂
I read football news. Watch football. Read tweets. Edit pictures.
You can tell who’s solo/single with the row of heads, embarrased, craning down, looking at their smartphones, trying to look busy in a restaurant.
Thanks to the smartphone, we don’t feel that lonely or embarrassed eating solo anymore I guess.
We are anti-social and social at the same time.
However at some of the Luxury Hostels I’ve stayed in: Gallery Hostel in Porto and Oasis Lisbon thankfully you don’t need the smartphone excuse at dinner anymore.
They have the wonderful tradition of cooking dinner for the guests.
Cost: 10 euros with few glasses of wine included in the price.
The dishes , served are typical of the region and country.
At Gallery Hostel in Porto, on the first night I had Caldo Verde- a wonderful, earthy traditional Portuguese soup with spring greens and some chorizo for added flavour.
On the second night there we had ‘Arroz De Pato’ – Portuguese Duck Rice, where the duck is baked in a bed of rice with some chorizo and local goats cheese grated on top for flavour.
Not only was I eating some great food, the evening dinner offered a great opportunity to meet other guests within the hostel.
Over a few glasses of excellent port wine that was served with the meal, many new friendships were formed.
In the end, one of the lasting memorable impressions I take away from these hostels is the people, characters you meet and moments like this.
For example, I met Stella in Oasis Lisbon: An Puglia native who is an architect in Lisbon but comes along 3 times a week to cook in the hostel kitchen.
She cooked for us a dish of bacalhao (salted cod) in a béchamel sauce with pasta.
Was a great meal.
Given that she has a secure, well paid job, I was curious to know why she cooks in a hostel kitchen. Definitely not for the money.
She replied it was the pleasure of cooking and sharing food with the people in the hostel.
For her, cooking the meal was a social outlet and a great way to meet people.
For me food has always been about sharing and bring people together.
When you’re away from home, having a wonderful meal with lots of wine with lots of happy travellers in an a beautiful city….
If that is not luxury……..
In Porto, I stayed at the Gallery Hostel where you can get bed in a 6 bed dorm for as little as £20 per night, or a double (ensuite) for around £50 per night.
Oasis Lisboa , a 18th century mansion converted into a hostel, you can stay as little as £20 a night in the 6 bed dorms or get yourself a double room