MADRID – I spent the final month of 2011 in Spain. I was nearing the end of a six-month sojourn with my wife, 14-year-old daughter, and 10-year-old son. We covered a large part of the country – Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, and Malaga. There were several other stops such as Segovia for the meats and Bilbao for the arts, but our focus was on those other cities.
We all fell in love with Spain. To me, it’s second only to Italy over here. It’s strange, but before I went on that long comprehensive trip, if asked, I would have said France would be No. 1 followed by Great Britain. I am certainly a Francophile when it comes to food, but I side with the Italians in that longstanding heated argument. Great Britain isn’t necessarily a food-lovers country. though I have had many great meals there.
Spain was the big surprise on that original trip. We fell in love with the people and the food and the laid-back culture.
Here I am in 2022, back in Spain, exactly two years after a global pandemic shut down the world. I took a quick two-week working vacation into Tuscany last fall, but other than that, this is the first time I’ve been back in Europe since the pandemic hit.
I write this at 6:30 a.m. as the sun is beginning to rise through my hotel windows and creeps above the tree line over beautiful El Retiro Park. There are 25 people in other rooms in this hotel waiting to start a 10-day journey with me retracing the route I took a little over 10 years ago. I am glad to be back and working over here again.
I use the term work, but it’s not hard work. It’s not like landscaping or construction. I’ve done those jobs. That’s work. And I’m not a tour guide, not at all. Even though I’ve led over 500 people through Italy over the past several years, I’m just a host. I find great people and great places, and I love turning Americans on to those people and places.
This trip was booked pre-COVID, over two years ago. The beauty of this group is that almost all the 25 people here have traveled with me before. For many of them, this will be their fourth or fifth trip. We are friends now, and that’s what the next 10 nights in Spain is going to be, a group of friends traversing the country and enjoying another culture, its people and its food.
I never intended to be a tour host. It just happened. When my family was on the long six-month European trip, I invited my friend and co-collaborator/business partner Wyatt Waters over to join us on the Italian leg. He and I had written two books together at the time (four now, with another in the can waiting release one …….