Get off the beaten path » Seeing the world from a different point of view

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  • Get off the beaten path

    It's so easy to stick to the tourist trail, stay in hotels the Lonely Planet recommends, eat where everyone else eats and visit all the famous sights you've seen on telly and in magazines. While these experiences can be nice, you'll have the best adventures if you wander off the trail. Who's to say that just because a sight is famous, that it's actually any good? In fact, as soon as you discover what else the world has to offer that is not in the guide book, you'll realise that most famous sights are astonishingly underwhelming - if you can get through the crowds to see them.

    As well as the fact that the greatest sights you'll see, people you'll meet and experiences you'll have are off the beaten path, it's also much cheaper to get off the tourist trail than to stay on it.

    I realise that as soon as you find a place that’s genuinely off the tourist trail you want to keep it to yourself, but if you share, then others will share, and the world will open up around you. I’m not talking about taking three flights, two boat rides and a lift on the back of a donkey cart just to find an empty beach, I’m interested in the gems that are simply hidden away from the regular tourist areas, be it a lesser-known Thai island, a unique area of a big city, an unusual hotel or just a sight that no one seems to have noticed.

    If you've ever come across anything like this, let me know and I'll share it on this site!

    That's me, by the way, jumping in the air at a sand dune in Punta Gallinas, the most northerly point in Colombia.

Getting my chocolate and churros on in Madrid

Chocolate and churros. Yum.

Last week I was summoned to jury service. Over the two weeks I had a gun case and a drugs case. Pretty standard stuff. Nothing to blog home about. But the last case finished on the Thursday and we were told to go home and not worry about coming back, as they don’t hand out new cases on Fridays. Yippee!

But now I had a decision to make. Did I tell my boss I’d been let go a day early and go back to work, or did I buy a flight to somewhere exciting and make the most of my unexpected three-day weekend?

Twelve hours later, I was boarding a plane to Madrid with a backpack of essentials and a mischievous grin.

I have no idea why I chose Madrid. It was the first place I thought of. It’s funny, when I have to choose between five brands of toilet roll, each of which have five more varieties, I can stand in the aisle of Sainsbury’s for half an hour before walking away because I just can’t decide. But when it comes to big stuff, I don’t even think about my options. God help me when I come to buying a house or getting married.

So off I went to Madrid. The first thing I noticed was that it wasn’t as hot as I’d hoped. In fact in was downright bloody chilly. The second thing I noticed was that it’s a little bit grotty. I was staying in a hostal just off the main road, which was a haven in the midst of madness.

On my first night I went to bed at 8pm, got up at midnight and set out to Plaza del Sol – the place where all the parties happen. I’d heard about a salsa club called El Son near there, so I started walking in that direction. Then a British man bumped into me, said sorry, and I said it’s fine. His 19 mates all turned to look at me in wonder. They were all men. On a massive stag do. I was a girl on my own. It didn’t take me long to make new friends.

After getting some rip-off drinks in an empty, blue-lit bar, I told them I was going to the salsa club with or without them. They came, and I realised this was a lot of pressure on me – it could make or break the stag’s Big Night Out.

It was a hell of a lot of fun. The local men take turns to ask girls to dance, so I was never short of a dance partner, and the drinks – well, I can’t tell you how much they were as I never had to buy any myself.

We danced (and the stag took pictures of his privates) all night long until morning. Feet sore, I got a cab back to my hostel at about 7am while the people who don’t need sleep went to the Plaza Mayor to watch the sun rise. The amount of people on the street was incredible – it could have been 8pm on a Friday on a street in London in the middle of a hot summer. Madrileños certainly have a different body clock to the rest of the world.

I bumped into the stag group again the next day, and they said they’d been kept awake all morning by construction work going on. As usual, I thanked my decision to carry earplugs and an eye mask everywhere I go.

I spent all the rest of my time in the city eating and drinking lots of chocolate in the chocolate cafes. My favourite way to eat the thick, delicious gloopy stuff was to scoop it up with deep-fried churros. The choc places are open all hours, so you can get your churros on any time of day or night. I got my churros on every time of day and night. Heavenly. A good enough reason to go to Madrid, if you ask me.

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