Looking For Back Doors.

Hello alltrying to plan our next European destination, and realizing that our favorite thing to do involves true "back doors"chatting with locals. We've found this to be easier in some places than others... (some regions, some hotels/inns, some restaurants...) and, of course, you don't necessarily find this information reading guidebooks. We've been to a handful of major European cities (and we definitely prefer city to country) and are at a loss when figuring out where to visit next, because while it's nice to see castles and museums, it's relationships that have lasting impact, especially learning from people of a different background. Long-winded way to say: does anyone have any suggestions for me/us for places to go? (region? even city/restaurant/hotel?) Ideally thinking of late Aug/early Sept. but also looking for future trips. Thanks! (And I'll recommend two places we've stayed before where the owners are great to get to know, and treat you like family: Pension Peters in Berlinfrom Rick's guidebookand Hotel Bijagua in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.)

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

Our ultimate place to visit that sounds like what you want is the Port Charlotte Hotel in Port Charlotte, Isle of Islay, Scotland. Just up the street is the Lochindal cafe and bar which is also homey. If you spend a week there you will get to meet a variety of people who will accept you warmly. Just amke the effort to be interested in what's going on there.

Posted by Kathleen
Reston, VA, USA
304 posts

Brooke, I know what you mean about the importance of connecting with locals. I would recommend looking into the various B&B or room rental options. We stayed with a wonderful hostess in London through "At Home in London" in summer 2008, and I enjoyed discussing politics and health care with her over breakfast... also my daughter and I just got back from southern France where we rented rooms through Bedycasa in Montpellier and Avignon and had more great chances to chat with the locals - you are generally renting a room in their house/flat, though there are many different arrangements. I also am part of a hosting network called Affordable Travel Club; we have stayed with several overseas hosts (though most of the hosts are in the US) and really enjoyed talking/connecting with our local ATC hosts. Good luck with your search, and feel free to PM me if you'd like more information on any of these.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9086 posts

I'm still waiting for someone to take up my perpetual recommendation of Flumserberg...

Posted by celeste
30 posts

Ditto Claudia, but stay out of Dublin and Belfast. Get in the car and stop when a pub looks inviting. Buy a beer for the person next to you and you have a friend for life. Stay in B&Bs. Go to Dingle. Better yet, go in February. Both our Ireland trips were seriously off-season. We had cold and rain and cold rain but we also had a blast with locals and never saw Americans. It was wonderful. Celeste

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3296 posts

If you really prefer city to country, then what about some smaller cities, or cities less traveled? For a larger city, Glasgow is a possibility. I would stay in the West end. Or if you want a smaller city, maybe Inverness. There are lots of day trips to the country, but also great pubs and restaurants. Or you could stay slightly out of town, but that's getting to village life. : ) I've not stayed there, but I wonder about Aberdeen. Of course Kirkwall on Orkney would be very remote, but with lots of local things to do. Pam

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2600 posts

You say you prefer city to country, so I would advise that you pick one of your favorite cities, and stay in the most offbeat neighborhood that you can find. Do not visit any tourist sites, simply hang out, go to the market, visit the same café, pub, restaurant and you will connect with some locals. I think the only way to find a true 'back door' or whatever you want to call it, is to find it spontaneously on your own. Once you take the advice from other people, it is their backdoor, not yours:) As much as I like 'seeing the sights' the most important part of many of my trips are the people I have met and conversations we have had about everything from food, philosophy, religion and politics.

Posted by Andrea
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
434 posts

Have you been to Liverpool? We've just returned from our third stay there and once again, were treated so well. Just show a little enthusiasm for their city and the people (Scousers) will fall over themselves to help you and speak with you. Example: we were overheard by our waiter at a very busy restaurant discussing the population of Liverpool. He came over and offered to help with any information we needed. He spent some time answering questions and telling us about the city. He kept popping by with more information even though he was very busy. And then, Liverpool having the feel of a smaller city than it is, we ran into him two more times just on the street in the coming days and he remembered us and said hello. Example: we went to a Liverpool FC game (huge LFC fans). We had to walk back to town because the buses and taxis were full. Not really sure on the route, we asked someone and he made absolutely sure we were going the right way. He even came out of nowhere long after we thought he had moved on, just to make sure we were going the right way. Example: we took the Magical Mystery Bus tour of the Beatles sites. We got lucky to be in a group of all Scousers who had bought tickets as a fundraiser so we were the only tourists on board. We were celebrities! They sat us up front behind the driver and we got the royal treatment. When the driver learned we were in town for the match he also toured us by some of the players' homes! I could go on and on but if you enjoy cities and are looking to meet people, Liverpool is the place.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7181 posts

In Ireland, especially any pub in any smaller town, it's nearly impossible to avoid a conversation with locals. Small town Ireland is like going to a family reunion - everyone wants to know where home is for you, what you do, where you have been, etc. I've had a musician give me an impromptu lesson on the Bodhran, a roofer describe the difference between hanging slate vs. cement shingles, and an IRA commander discuss the peace deal. I've even had a couple of gentlemen make a point of introducing me to the smaller pubs of Dublin after I told them I didn't really like the Temple Bar area. If you are at all outgoing, you will have as much conversation as you can handle.

Posted by celeste
30 posts

Brad - in a Dingle bar (which by day was either a shoe store or a hardware store or both), I had a pirate sing me a song, blow smoke in my face and ask, "Do you believe in fairies?" There is absolutely no double entendre intended in any of that.

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
657 posts

Every pub in Britain must be a back door, we've certainly found that on our trips. They're meant to be meeting and talking places, and there's (theoretically) no language barrier. Friendlier outside London I expect.

Posted by Webmaster
Edmonds, WA, USA
241 posts

I just deleted two extremely poor responses on this thread. Be respectful of others on our Helpline.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3576 posts

"pro-terrorist message" Where? {Edit: related comment removed by Webmaster} You're working way too hard...Otherwise, there wouldn't be many people left in this world to converse with. I'm a former baton twirler; that doesn't mean I still am, or that I even like batons anymore. Heck, I may have burned all of my old batons, medals, and trophies and turned to megaphones and pom-pons...like THAT would ever happen... Brooke, maybe choose your times carefully - don't try to 'get to know someone' in your city neighborhood during the morning cafe rush; wait until a little later, or maybe try a very early cocktail 'hour'. Do you have an interest in a particular subject(s)? Perhaps strike up a conversation with a bookstore owner about books on that subject (esp. something not available 'at home'). Collect anything in particular? Engage a Carnival mask maker...or whatever floats your boat! I've had some great conversations with people associated with beer and wine ;-) It's fun when you return the next day, and the bartender is excited to pull out a bottle of hard-to-find/hard-to-appreciate beer for you to try 8^D I don't know if a particular region or country is easier or better for 'back door' experiences. Early Sept could be a wine crush time, if you're into that - maybe you can find a vineyard that allows 'mere people' to harvest the grapes; they're out there somewhere.

Posted by Susan and Monte
Granite Bay, CA
677 posts

We have had great luck meeting lots of people at B&B's. Usually we are able to spend time with the owner and family, but we also find it fun to meet other travelers from all parts of Europe. They may not be locals, but they are Europeans. We became great friends with one couple and even stayed with them in Germany on our last trip and plan to travel with them again. The key: don't stay where Americans do, and stay in a small B & B where people will hang out at breakfast. In Italy we sat outside a listened to our house guest playing guitar and singing, and drank wine with many others, not locals, but European vacationers. Just one opinion!