Travels with their mother

Ever since Jack Whitehall and his father cornered the family travel market, my ‘children’ have been begging to holiday with me. Begging.

‘You have kerb appeal, Mum. You are the ‘right’ age (senior/mature) to contrast with us – in the the prime of adult youth – and you are so beautifully inept at travel that even your work day commute has been providing us with Tik Tok gold on a regular basis. Trust us, it will be hilarious to film your first attempt at airport security since 2019′.

Thus Favourite Kids (FKs) dangle the prospect of three whole days in their company. I do my research and see that their proposal has more potential to take me to ‘Go Little Rockstar’ on Tik Tok than my annual B&B Bank Holiday weekend in Blackpool.

Muttering that ideally I would prefer a bucket & spade Bank Holiday in the UK to a bucket list City Break involving Revolut and Priority Boarding, I relent. They settle on a boutique hotel in Porto, and I tell them to forget any hope of trading in their Easter eggs for a giant Toblerone in Duty Free.

The talk of Ryanair and, ‘hand luggage only,’ sends me into a cold sweat (unusual for a menopausal woman). I speak to both son and daughter on video call (they dial) and I remember their travel takeaways as follows:

  • Pack light, really light. Your hand luggage will be taken off you by Michael O’Leary if you get this wrong.
  • No need for running gear.
  • No need for ‘swimmers’, or summer dresses; jeans will do nicely, it will be chilly.
  • Take a coat, it is very likely to rain.

Let me relieve you of the opinion that my nearest and dearest ensured that I arrive in Porto looking cosmopolitan and unruffled. In hindsight, I feel that they may have been prepping their photographic pitch to Netflix for ‘Travels with Our Mother’. The reality is :

  • Sod the hand luggage, everyone gets away with huge carry on bags and Mr O’Leary is far too busy chuckling at the lack of British Airway flights to make a personal appearance at Stansted. My own kids travel with twice the amount of clothes I arrive with and still ask me to carry their toiletries.
  • As we bid each other goodnight on arrival – after tossing a coin for the hotel rooms (I get lucky here on account of my age), both son and daughter call back down the stairs, ‘Anyone up for a run before breakfast?’
  • On reading my Lonely Planet guide to Porto (after arrival, lesson learnt) I realise that I can get to a beach in 20 minutes (15 minutes if I run) and that the rest of the party did all, in fact, ‘pack their swimmers’.
  • My female travel companions change outfit at least 3 x a day during our sojourn and their gorgeous dresses feature prominently in our family ‘snaps’. For point of reference, I am the old bird in the middle of any group photo – yes, the one sweltering in a cagoule and dark denim.
  • The only use my coat gets is when I try to fashion it into a sun cap for Favourite Man. He is truly ungrateful for my efforts – even though his bald bonce is being burnt to a crisp by the blazing Portuguese sun.

Anyway, a Portuguese Bank Holiday is not for the churlish and I return from my mini break rejuvenated and ready to flex my passport again at the earliest opportunity. FKs advise me that you will not be interested in my travelogue and that their photos will do the talking. They have not shared these photos with me yet, so I will just have to trust them when we get to negotiate with Amazon Prime (Disney, even). They allow me to share a few edited highlights of our trip, and promise to help me hashtag these later.

My holiday learning goes as follows:

  • I can drink in the sun, although the evidence shows that I am a lightweight at this – I think this is a compliment. Drinking is better on a roof top terrace looking out at a setting sun. Apparently, when I have partaken in a glass (or two) of the local Rose, my shoulders start dancing in a fashion that is totally disconnected with my lower body. This has the potential to look quite funny on a reel. Who knew?

  • Porto is VERY hilly and has a lot of winding stairways. These steps are challenging when you have partaken in a glass (or two) of the local Rose but it means that you have absolutely no hope of estimating the vertical ascent ahead – and this is a very good thing indeed. In living memory I have never chuckled my way so cheerfully through such a high step count.
  • The Portuguese like to hide their best restaurants from tourists. My favourite eating place of the trip was hidden on the roof of a multi-storey car park. FKs assure me that we are climbing up to a star-lit alfresco dining opportunity that will boost our on-line ratings – I can only smell petrol and a faint whiff of urine on the way up, but I can report that the food (when we eventually join the Portuguese locals in this well-hidden eatery) is more than worth the parking ticket.
  • Port and wine tasting are obligatory in Portugal; although this is not negotiable, best to check out the bus route before you book a tasting tour, as a day of hair pin bends and high altitude can strengthen the impact of the port and add an earthy undertone to the boat trip which is also factored into the day. Thankfully we have an enthusiastic Portuguese guide with us for distraction. Philippa has absolutely no filter but plenty of fascinating commentary. We make an impromptu detour to a local train station to decant two sickly looking passengers who have changed their mind about port, but then she is straight back on the mini bus, with, ‘Funny story; as we come down this windy mountain let us hope that our driver keeps us on the road – I can tell you about a driver and his passengers who were not so fortunate on this incline. We will distract you from the sheer drop to your right by playing the Portuguese Eurovision Song Contest entry.’
  • I find that I like the idea of tasting port better than the actual experience, for after a couple of snifters it starts to taste like my childhood cough medicine. I am far too shy to acknowledge this to the vineyard owner who will be serving us lunch once he has completed his TED talk. He shows us a nifty trick with a his phone torch to tell if a port is blended or not (I can show you this later) and then wows his audience by pouring lunchtime red and white wine simultaneously from two bottles into two glasses without spilling a drop. This saves a lot of hanging around and allows us to attack the bread basket before we embarrass ourselves. ‘Good for your Tik Tok, no?’ our host chuckles – posing for the camera – before asserting that, ‘I am now your new best friend, yes?’ . Philippa is clearly impressed, but then she is likely to do the same trip tomorrow with a different group of punters, so it is worth her finessing her wild applause and checking that the route back to the bus leads her passengers through our host’s small family gift shop. I have to shuttle quickly past said host because I fear being tested on the talk he gave earlier. When we are back on the bus, our party confess that we had all been so focused on the actual tasting that we can only remember one new ‘interesting fact’ from the talk – that black and green olives come from the same tree, they are just harvested at different times. This fact bears no relation at all to our Port Introductory Talk, but may help you in a future pub quiz.
  • My son tells me that I am a much more chilled parent now than I was during their teenage years. In my defence, I take at face value the two chaps who arrive at our riverside bar (to interrupt our post-breakfast digestif) and offer to sell us sunglasses. I think it a tad strange that our whole party are wearing sunglasses at this moment, so there is not a visible gap in the market, but I am naively oblivious to their man bags and side hustle offer to help our weekend become even more recreational. FKs expect me to engage my full teacher glare, but instead I ask one of the chaps if he can come back later with a hat for Favourite Man. They never return. Perhaps this is a good thing. A baseball cap could be a drug running euphemism and I am keen to hang on to my passport while we wait to corner our social media travel niche.

So there you have it. MY version of our long weekend in Porto. Just remember that if ‘Travels With Your Mother’ ever streams – and if you can actually bear to watch it – my children will have been heavily involved in the final edit. I remain quietly optimistic, for there is already talk of a second series – it would be a shame not to get more use from my cagoule and the three pairs of sunglasses that appear in my hand luggage on our return journey, and enable me to have a lovely little chat with my new Portuguese Security friend. I leave Tomas with a bar of oversized Toblerone and assert, ‘I am your new best friend, yes?’ as I sprint to catch up with FM who appears to be boarding the plane without me.

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