Returning to the mic after 10 days of food, wine, wind, rain, and snow in the north of Spain. I talk about traveling in Spain, and with my guest Coleman Collins about how to make the best coffee in your hotel room. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #139:
- Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
- Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL. Just got back Sunday night from 10 days in Spain — about 4 days each in Madrid and San Sebastian, with a couple of days in the Rioja wine region in between. A friend on the East Coast sent me a note while I was in Spain — “Good week to be out of town; we got whacked with yet another dump of snow.” Not quite. It’s been a cold Spring in Europe and Spain has been no different. Our first weekend in Madrid was in the upper 30’s/low 40’s with a mix of rain and wet snow. Which turned into just snow as we drove up to Rioja. Some of that drive reminded me of I-70 in the Colorado Rockies — go into a tunnel with fine weather; come out of it to blowing snow. Having said that, it was nothing like the 7 or 9 or 14 inches that Winter Storm Toby dropped on the East Coast last week. And even with lousy weather, the food and the wine in Spain makes it hard to sustain any sort of cranky attitude, though it shorten up our pintxos crawl through Logroño.
- We flew Iberia to Madrid because: a) they have a non-stop flight from Chicago and b) as I mentioned a few episodes ago, I was finally able to burn off some of those Avios points that had been collecting cobwebs in my BA account. I decided to try Iberia’s Premium Economy service on the flight over. Most airlines are using this sorta “tweener” service to capture revenue from people willing to pay a bit more for some comfort, but aren’t willing to go the 2-300% Business Class uplift out of their own pocket. And it was truly a “tweener” service — about 5 rows between the Business and regular Coach cabins, and coach seats with spacing and recline somewhere between domestic First Class and, say, United’s Economy Plus. The meal service was the same as Economy, but they served us first, and they gave us a little amenities kit with just the essentials — earplugs, eye mask, socks, and a toothbrush. It was as-advertised — Coach with a bit more space, which made for better napping on the 8-hour flight over. I’ve talked in past episodes that I really question the value-for-money with Business Class on Transatlantic flights, but this tweener class was a reasonable deal.
- The deeper recline of the Premium Economy seat also makes it easier for you to stay in your space when you sleep. On the way back, I was in regular Coach because — well, I’m cheap and didn’t need to sleep. But the guy next to me did. He nodded off as soon as we left the ground, which meant he didn’t recline his seat, which meant that he started to list to port, toward my shoulder. This guy looked like he was the younger brother of Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man”. But there was no amount of interesting that was going to have him sleeping on my shoulder. Just as he was about to touch down on my shoulder, I gave our seat row a bit of a shake — some single row turbulence. He startled awake, realized what he was doing, and immediately sat straight up. Stay upright, my friend.
- Bridge Music — P.I.H.E. by Budapest BluesBoy (c) copyright 2010 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/hepepe/26362 Ft: Inna Barmash – Zhurbin
- Just a quick addendum to the luggage thread we’ve been running over the last couple of episodes. In the last episode Jerry Sarfati talked about downsizing from a 22 to a 20-inch carry-on bag because of the hassles he’d gotten from American Airlines gate agents. I mentioned then that I haven’t had any problems from American, and didn’t get pulled over on my Chicago-to-Madrid Iberia flight. Just goes to show you how much discretion gate agents have. I didn’t test it on the way back home — 2 bottles bought in Rioja tasting rooms and a tin of olive oil tipped me way over the liquid limit.
- The EU’s no roaming rules also let me skip what had become our first day of European vacation ritual of burning a couple of hours in a phone store buying local SIM cards for our mobile phones. Instead, the week before we left, I fired up EE’s iPhone app and topped up our UK SIMs. Somewhere over the Bay of Biscay, after my breakfast tray was cleared, I swapped out my AT&T SIM. Once on the ground, I turned on my phone and was good to go. And because the whole family has EE SIMs, it was easy to call each other when we got separated on our pintxos crawls. I know that everyone just messages nowadays, but I’m still one of those knuckledraggers who occasionally finds talking quicker than texting.
- While in Madrid, I also added to my subway “tap-n-go” card collection for €2.50 — or about $3 at current exchange rates. The interesting twist on Madrid’s system is that you can tap up to 4 people through the turnstile with a single card, so I only had to buy one tap card for the whole family. I’d load it up with 10 rides — which seemed to be the only option — we’d line up behind one turnstile, then tap through and pass it back. Getting out, we just walked through the turnstile since the Madrid Metro fare system seems based on zones rather than start and ending stations. Just adding it to the growing stack…
- In past episodes, I’ve talked about how I’ve come to value the service I get from Hertz with President’s Club status. And so I rented a car from Hertz in Madrid for our drive up to Rioja for wine tasting and then over to San Sebastian and back. On Tuesday morning, we headed to Atocha train station, found the Hertz counter, and then I sent my family to get breakfast because I knew from past experience renting cars in Spain, that I was in for 30 minutes of hard upselling. It didn’t matter that I had already booked on-line at Hertz.com and selected the options I wanted, I was going to get sold. Mel, the Hertz agent, spoke excellent American English — all the right terms, slang, colloquialisms. Telling me the rate I got was “crazy low” — I’d used our corporate rate plus cashed in some Hertz points — because I didn’t have any insurance. And then came the big push — writing down big liability numbers, huge damage possibilities — even though a lot of this was covered by our corporate rate and the credit card. After this, there was the upsell for the car — did you know you booked a manual, can you drive a manual — because, well, no Americans know how to work a clutch. I just smiled and nodded, and let Mel work through his spiel — I had kinda hoped that my status would save me, but nope, there was no short-circuiting this. After he was done, I said “No” to everything. I finally got the keys just as my family finished breakfast, and then off we went. I would’ve been frustrated if I hadn’t expected it and budgeted time for it. Instead, I was just slightly weary. I’m glad my wife got me a coffee to-go.
- And in the seeming obligatory craft beer segment of TravelCommons, having the rental car let me hit the Basqueland Brewing Project taproom outside of San Sebastian. It had a very American feel to it — winding through a light industrial area, finding the place by spotting the picnic tables in front of the open loading door, walking past the foosball table and shelves holding 20-kg sacks of malt, the fluorescent pink cord blocking access to the brewing area. And for good reason, the place is owned by 3 Americans. One of them was working the taps when we arrived. He quickly flipped from Spanish to English when we ordered. Originally from Baltimore, he came over 6 years ago when his wife wanted to move back home. Nice guy, good beer.
- Rob Cheshire, a TravelCommons listener and Untappd friend, hit the comments section on the last episode — first, to egg me on about my comment in the last episode to do a One City, Five Taprooms layover video, and then about taprooms near Wrigley Field when he comes in to see the Reds play the Cubs. I managed to string together a 6-taproom crawl; he may need to break that up into a couple of rounds.
- And, to Rob’s first question, I actually will do a taproom layover video, but instead of basing it out of ORD like my last layover video, I’m going to do this one from MDW — give those Southwest fliers some love. It’ll let me hit 4 taprooms that have opened in the past couple of years in what can only be described as the “post-industrial” landscape of Chicago’s near south side. It should be fun. Working on the scheduling now. Will shoot it in April. With the additional production time video requires, it might not get up until May, but I’ll keep everyone posted
- One last thing — last week I tweeted out a link to a pretty rigorous study from the FlyHealthy Research Team out of Emory University in Atlanta about passenger movements on transcontinental flights and what it means for the spread of respiratory diseases. The team took 10 flights, logging passenger movements, taking air samples, and swabs of hard surfaces. I won’t go through the whole study — I’ll put a link in the show notes for those who want to read it, which I encourage you to do; it’s very readable as scientific papers go — but the main takeaways for me were: a) you really only have to be concerned about the people immediately in front, behind, and next to you — a one-row radius; b) the people wiping down their trays, armrests, and seat belt buckles with Purell Wipes are wasting their time; and c) if you’re really worried, get a window seat in the front part of the plane and don’t leave it for the entire flight (which, as a side benefit, will also endear you to your row mates). As one who has called planes “flying petri dishes”, I was pleasantly surprised by the Emory team’s findings.
- And if you have any travel questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org — you can use your smartphone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to @mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
- Bridge music — ~aether theories~ by Vidian (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Vidian/57398 Ft: Gurdonark, White-throated Sparrow
Brewing the Best Hotel Room Coffee
- Interview with Coleman Collins. His blog post on brewing hotel room coffee is here
- Bridge music — Tools of the Trade by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/56512 Ft: Abstract Audio, Mr Yesterday, Martijn de Boer, Speck
Notes from Spain
- This was our 4th spring trip to Spain. Our first trip we hit Madrid and Barcelona, the usual suspects. The next trip, we headed south to Andalucia — Córdoba, Granada, Ronda, Seville — during Semana Santa, Holy Week, and saw penitential processions every day in every town and city we visited, culminating in Holy Thursday night outside of Seville Cathedral. The last trip, in 2016, we headed back down South, but even further, taking a boat across the Straits of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco. For this trip, we gave up warm weather for some new territory — Rioja and the Basque Country.
- As I said at the top of the show, for me, Spain is about food and wine. There’s certainly culture — the Semana Santa processions are phenomenal cultural events, standing in front of the huge canvas of Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Mezquita in Cordoba,… — but it’s the food and wine that keep bringing us back.
- On our first trip to Granada, we were staying in a Marriott — maybe one of their AC properties — in the middle of town. A great building; it had been a convent at one time. There was an interior courtyard; we had a nightcap there one night. 4 glasses of wine at the hotel bar — figuring $12-15/glass, I’m waiting for a 40 euro tab. It was 12 euros — I love this country.
- The pintxos crawl was the food center of this trip north, first in Logroño and then in San Sebastian, walking from bar to bar — a glass of wine and a bite at each. It was a good mix of food. In Logroño, we started at a couple of dive-ier, more local places that focused on just one pintxos — sauteed mushrooms at one, ground lamb sandwich at the next, the meat seared on a flat grill behind the bar, and then served on a bun with a great tasting green sauce — and serving local Rioja wines, pulling the bottles from a bucket at the end of the bar. We then swung into a distinctly higher end place, complete with a Michelin sticker on the front door; more variety of food — seared red tuna, pickled white anchovies, grilled octopus — and the next level up of Rioja wines. Later in the week, in San Sebastian, when the weather turned a bit better, we could see the crawl pick up volume in the pedestrian streets of the old town; people still bundled up a bit, but taking their wine outside, and willing to walk to the next place rather than hunkering down for a couple of courses in the warmth.
- Cider is big in the Basque Country, though it’s drier, not as sweet as you get in the US or the UK. And during cider season — January through April — the siderias, the cider houses in the hills outside of San Sebastian, open up to serve cider streamed directly from the tap of huge chestnut wood barrels into your glass, and then the glass of the person behind you,… and a traditional menu of salt-cod omelette, fresh cod fried with peppers and onions, and damn big grilled t-bones served either standing up or at communal tables. We ended up sharing a meal with a busload of folks from just over the border in France. A couple dozen of us lined up as a worker manned the tap — letting a thin stream of cider out. We lined up our wide-mouthed plastic tumblers about three feet away to impart a bit of fizz to the three fingers of cider that we caught before moving out of the stream to let it hit the tumbler that someone was holding right below ours.
- For a great food country, the food at Madrid airport, though, is a bit pedestrian. So to extend our food extravaganza for one more meal, we skip the “meh” restaurants and buy a package of the top-end iberian ham — the bellota, from the free range Iberian pigs fattening up on acorns. We can’t bring it into the US, but it’s an 8-hour flight from Madrid to Chicago. That package never makes it as far at US landfall.
- Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
- OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #139
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