Harriet Walker: 'My enthusiasm for clock museums in foreign lands knows no bounds'


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The Independent Online

I narrowly missed being in the MTV generation proper by about two years; what I am instead is one of the mini- break generation. We with no children, unhampered for the most part by mortgage or matrimony, are like worse-organised, energetic pensioners going on cruises. EasyJet is our Viking Tour, Ryanair our Saga. We have clutches instead of money belts, and Birkenstocks instead of… Oh.

We use our weekends to explore the capital cities of Europe for not much more than the price of a ticket to a West End show and far less of the triteness, soaking up cultural experiences with the regularity our slightly older peers do baby sick.

My Facebook feed is full of people jetting off for weekends in picturesque locations. Here, a hen do in Madrid, there a stag in Prague, pink-faced and covered in sick in front of St Vitus Cathedral. My friends go for gastronomic adventures in Denmark, or cycling tours of Ghent. Or they razz it up in Paris, and dance in the gay clubs of Barcelona, which is just as valid a way to spend a weekend.

So thank you budget airlines for broadening our horizons. In the old days, I imagine people just got on a National Express to Manchester. Unless they were posh, in which case they just drove their own car to Gloucestershire.

The mini-break has also become a rite of passage. As Bridget Jones says, "A mini-break means true love." And miniature shower gels snaffled from boutique-hotel rooms.

Of course they come in different guises and for different reasons. First off, there's the mini-break at the parents'. Some might question whether the "break" part of this refers to the time away or to the spirits bowed by the end of it (not me, mind, I have brilliant parents for mini-breaks – they always fill up the fridge). Sometimes the parental mini-break takes the form of other people's parents. These are even better: you get all the comforts of a family home without being in your own and having to do the washing-up.

Then there's the messy mini. These are usually spent with friends in European cities more lax with their licensing laws than ours. Regard "los Ingles" struggling to stay awake for dinner at 9pm! See how they fail to hold their alcohol with dignity in the 17 hours before the club even opens at 1am!

"Spa getaways", of course, are for couples who think they're "getting away from things" for a couple of days, only to find that what they're trying get away from has come along with them. Or it's for female friends who think they're as close as two friends could ever be, but who then find themselves feeling awkward when it comes to sharing a bathroom.

Finally, there's the nerdy mini-break – one of my favourites. The nerd-break is when two people of equal geekiness go to a city that they then try to explore together in as efficient a way as possible. Personally, I have no sense of direction and an in-built fear of foreign public transport, so I don't rank highly when it comes to efficiency. But my enthusiasm for clock museums, medieval grain stores and cake shops knows no bounds.

This is sort of the perfect holiday for me, a person whose skin starts feeling a bit tight when they're away from home for too long. I worry that things won't get done – or worse, that they will, and any need for my presence where I belong will be subtly undermined. And the distances involved are ideal, too – far enough for the food to get a bit better but not too far that it resembles something from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

And the most lovely surprise of the modern mini-break? That if you end up in one of about 18 European destinations, you will almost certainly have contacts pushed on you by friends and colleagues, with promises that their friends there know how to have a good time. They're like private tour guides, these people, helping you fulfil your dream sequence that this is in fact the city you really live in. Tra la la, cobbles and cheese.

These mini- breaks sum up my generation: upwardly mobile, attention-deficit, ungrateful at times, and absurdly lucky. They'll seem both dated and exotic to the generations that come after us, who will no doubt be holidaying on Mars from behind a virtual headset in their sitting-rooms. They won't know it, but they'll really be missing out.

Still, at least they won't have to queue at the boarding gate.