Ok, first off let me admit that title isn’t exactly accurate on a few fronts. But, who’s counting, right?
For about the fortieth time last night someone, this time a Brazilian traveller during a fado-themed dinner at our hostel in Porto, told me I looked just like the lady from the movie, “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” I’ve been stopped on the street in New York multiple times and even been told by a close friend of Catherine Keener’s the same.
It always makes Matt and me laugh because we don’t see the resemblance but this time we got an extra chuckle because we had just been discussing how we felt like 40 year old hostel virgins.
Sure, we’ve fumbled around with hostels before…one here and one one there, but this is the first trip where, uhm, we’re going all the way – basically existing from hostel to hostel on our way around Portugal, Italy, and Spain.
Is this our hostel phase? Possibly. Over the past few years and adventures, we’ve been in an AirBnB and guesthouse phase in search of our own oasis along the road.
I suppose I always had the notion that hostels were more for meeting other travelers (true enough) and not necessarily for plugging into the local scene. What I’m learning is the opposite of the latter notion.
Yes, hostels are a great way to connect with other travelers – we’ve meet new friends from all over the world with whom we’ve explored cities, shared meals, travel tips, and experiences, and gained insight into each other’s homelands. But, equally we’ve connected with locals dedicated to sharing their culture and perspective through their work in the hostel and gotten a glimpse behind the curtain into the inner workings of a place.
In Sintra, we joined our hostel hosts for lunch with their local friends and we found ourselves instantly plugged in to the city. In Cascais, we spent a vinho-fueled evening with our host discussing the politics of running a guesthouse in Portugal, the world of internet advertising, and the challenges of raising her eleven year old son with travellers in and out of her house. In Porto, we experienced a communal dinner cooked by a local chef – maybe our best dinner so far in Portugal – followed by a live fado performance by a group of lively, young local artists. We also by chance got to meet our hostel owner’s main competitioner in the neighborhood and see the dynamic there between two small business owners. Fascinating to say the least.
Some of my favorite moments have been standing around the kitchen with a bunch of strangers – travellers and hosts alike – eating, laughing, and doing our best to communicate across several languages. It happens in every city and in every hostel kitchen much like friends gather in our kitchen at home. A little slice of home while traveling through this big world.
Sintra – Almaa Hostel is located a 15-20 minute walk from the train station and outside of the main tourist drag. The location was such a plus for us. It’s in a residential area, has serene gardens, hiking paths, yoga classes, and a beautiful communal kitchen and outdoor dining space. Plus, there’s a medieval themed tavern next door which is nothing if not eccentric and with magical powers all it’s own. www.almaasintrahostel.com
Cascais – Nice Way Hostel is located in the city’s charming old quarter, just a few blocks from the sea. This place is equally hip and laidback. A true surfers’ haven. We weren’t the oldest travellers there, but it was close. Still it’s a great place with a cool vibe. Just don’t expect much sleep. www.nicewaycascais.com
Cascais – Agarre o Momento is a great stop for a good nights’ sleep and interaction with a lovely host. The home is in a neighborhood about 1 km out of the center. The backyard garden is a peaceful retreat, communal kitchen is great for cooking a meal, and Christiana and Mr. Browning (her cat) make for great company.
Porto – Gallery Hostel. This place is such a great oasis in the middle of Porto in the art gallery section of town. We loved the light filled communal spaces, celebration of local artists through events and exhibits, and large double rooms. There’s also a tiny but great rooftop space. www.gallery-hostel.com.