French Connections – En Route to Brive and the Dordogne

1st Stop: Le Petite Clos

I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything since January. I should go back and post date some travel experiences. I may just do that but then this post will look a little odd because the casual observer will see postings between Jan and August and then this comment will be a little out of context. Anyway … I’m off to France! Actually, I’ve already been and am just now starting to take some time to post some of the photos and maybe a few notes. More than just the caption in a photo album would allow.

As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I love to travel but the connections to my destination of choice are often the most exhausting part of the experience.

As with my trip to Spain a year ago I chose this time to simply rent a car upon arrival to make my connection to what would be the start of another bicycle tour. And as with last year I strategically found a small inn just a couple hours out of my arrival city to hole up and relax for a bit. (I use the map view of TripAdvisor to essentially do the equivalent of throwing a dart at a spot on the map that seems about where I would want to end up and then see what’s around there that looks interesting.) In this case, that was the small town of Chaumont sur Tharonne just a few miles off the Autoroute.

I really enjoyed my short stay at Le Petite Clos. This place is indeed small as you can see in the photo. (5 rooms) I had the room upstairs in the corner. The one with the window that is wide open.

My host Rene was both helpful and friendly. After showing me my room he offered coffee and cookies at a table outdoors in the garden area. Perfect place to unwind. And I needed the coffee. Experience shows that getting off my caffeine schedule can be one of the worst parts of jet lag.

Absolutely nothing was going on in Chaumont sur Tharonne on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing was open. No restaurants open either. And when I tried a nearby town, nothing I found of interest open there either. I was thankful for snacks I still had in my carry-on bag.

Breakfast in the morning was great. French toast, fruit, yogurt, croissant, coffee. Good for the 3’ish hour trip that remained to get to Brive. On to Brive…

Le Petite Clos

Ringing in the New Year at Launderette, Austin TX

I’ve been wanting to try out Launderette in Austin for some time. Nothing really stopping me other than taking time to actually plan because the place is routinely booked up. And I can now see why.

For a change I touched base with someone at Launderette much earlier than I typically would and arranged for a table for New Year’s Eve. Having never been there I suppose it might have been considered a gamble on whether it’d pan out but reviews have been good.

Suffice to say everything – including the service and new year party atmosphere – were fantastic.

Ok, on to my notes. I snagged the menu off the website and I’m glad they had it there so I didn’t have to type it in. Let’s get started…

First Course

Choice Of:Rabbit Terrine
Boston Mackerel Crudo
French Onion Soup
Frisée Salad

I can have a salad anytime – and I make a good salad – so that was out as 1st choice. And I’m sure the French Onion soup would have been great but we went for things we wouldn’t normally find: the rabbit and the mackerel crudo.

The rabbit terrine was sort of like a pâté. Not entirely spreadable but close. Excellent flavor and particularly with the Langhe Nebbiolo we chose to go along with the meal.

The mackerel was a much smaller portion and indeed raw but it packed a punch. It was very spicy but in a good way.

A great start!

Second Course

Choice Of:Razor Clam
Truffle Gnudi
Boneless Sardine
Roasted Kabocha

Here I went with the truffled Gnudi. Had no idea what Gnudi was but the waiter helped and I know I like truffles and how can you go wrong as anything billed as a little dumpling? Click the above link for more on what Gnudi is.

Third Course

Choice Of:Duck Breast
Short Rib
Squid Ink Cavatelli
Loup De Mer En Brodo

We opted for the duck breast and short rib. Both were absolutely fantastic. Might be the best short rib I’ve ever had.

Neither were large portions but they were just enough. When the time came though, we were ready for the:

Fourth Course

Choice Of:Disco Trifle
Champagne Baked Alaska
Million Dollar Chocolate
Etherealmisu

We opted for the baked Alaska and the million dollar chocolate. Wow! These were both great. I especially liked the touch to add the gold leaf to the million dollar chocolate.

Great way to bring in the new year and I’ll be headed back at the first opportunity. Photos here are a couple I took of neon sign out front and a shot of the restaurant from the parking lot. The place was literally a laundromat prior to its current state as a restaurant and I guess you can kinda tell that from the look. It’s had quite a transformation into a restaurant though.

Launderette, Austin, Texas

My Year of Instagram – 2015

I created an instagram account back in 2012 and promptly didn’t actually do anything with it. It was no doubt a busy time. I didn’t really start doing anything with it until just over a year ago. Since then, I’ve posted every few days. And sometimes I post more than once a day, but rarely more than that. (Actually I think it can be irksome to find someone you follow posting more than that.)

So what changed? I’ve enjoyed photography since I was a kid, but in the last couple of years I have renewed interest and the digital cameras and editing software available these days are very good. I’ve also found it to be a fun distraction at the end of the day. I can get into rush hour traffic, or I can take to the street, get in a walk and snag a few photos along the way. Both the popularity and simplicity of the instagram app have made it interesting as well. We all have phones practically glued to us.

Below are the 2015 stats by the numbers. From virtually no posts at the end of 2014 to 246 posts as I write this. Stats courtesy of the https://squarelovin.com website.
Instagram Posts 2015
The photos you see along with this post are the ones that have turned out to be the most popular (at least by way of ‘like’ counts) during the course of the year. The bicycle shadow with leaves was the most popular. And it should also be obvious that Austin folks and myself really like the Austin skyline. We do have a beautiful city.

I’d like to keep the same pace of posting next year but time will tell. This is most definitely a hobby and then there’s the real life & job.

Hudson’s on the Bend – Cooking Fearlessly Class

I had the pleasure once again of taking some time out late on a Sunday morning for the once a month ‘classes’ that are put on by Hudson’s on the Bend chef Jeff Blank and team. Always fun and as usual, the food was fantastic.

That’s chef Jeff Blank on the left. He supervises and comments along the way as his team makes all the food.

I quote ‘classes’ above only because it’s really more of a cooking demonstration. The team of chefs make everything right in front of you and tell you what they’re doing all along the way. Along the way the staff keeps you lubricated with wine as you enjoy the show. Lake Travis forms the backdrop when it’s outdoors like the day I was there.

The menu of the day varies and on this particular day it was in my opinion: awesome for the season.

We started things off with “Wild Game Chili“. This was probably some of the best tasting chili I can remember. Of course, when you see what they put in there you can see why:

  • venison
  • wild boar
  • onion
  • garlic
  • bacon
  • freshly made veal stock
  • ancho chilis
  • poblano chilis
  • + other seasonings and goodness

You can see a photo below of the big pot they made it in. It smelled as good as it tasted.

Next up after the chili came “New Orleans BBQ ‘big ass’ Shrimp“. They referred to them as ‘big ass’ shrimp because they special order them for their size. The term also reminds me of George Carlin’s quote about “jumbo shrimp”:

The term Jumbo Shrimp has always amazed me. What is a Jumbo Shrimp? I mean, it’s like Military Intelligence – the words don’t go together, man.

This dish had LOTS of butter along with garlic, and a tasty collection of spices: bay leaves, rosemary (freshly cut from the yard), oregano, basil, paprika, black pepper, cayenne.

We’re not done yet, then there was also “Espresso Rubbed Venison Backstrap with lump crab in Chipotle Bock Beer Blanc Butter“. This one was was done up in a stovetop smoker that you can also see to the right on the stove in the pic here. Smokey flavors were excellent.

And for dessert? “Brownie Bread Pudding“. Wow, this one was decadent. Chocolate chips melted down with butter, sugar, vanilla bean paste, eggs, flour. They first make up a batch of brownies with the main ingredients and then they go crazy and break it all up in a pan and add 2 quarts of heavy cream and a dozen eggs. Mix ‘er all up and bake. Holy smokes. A little of this goes a long ways.

After the demonstration everyone goes to the restaurant not too far from the demonstration at Jeff Blank’s home and the restaurant staff serves all of these great dishes up.

Don’t worry about the calories on a day like this. Just go and enjoy it.

Cycling the Camino de Santiago

I’m finally getting around to jotting just a few notes on a two week bike tour I did this past summer. I really enjoyed this bike tour and while this short posting won’t do two weeks and 12 days of riding justice in terms of the experience I’ll at least give a high level perspective on the tour.

Nothing like a map to provide a little context so that’s where I’ll start. As you can see, the tour starts up near the French border in a little town named Roncesvalles and makes its way across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. The Camino – literally ‘The Way’ – is historically a Christian pilgrimage route.

These days the Camino has become something of a tourist fav or both hikers and cyclists – whether they’re on a pilgrimage or not. There are many tour companies that’ll help coordinate and plan your way to Santiago. It was also obvious that many along the way were packing everything with them – either on their bike or on their back. Let’s just say I was glad to be on my bike and letting someone else cart the luggage from place to place.

The terrain and architecture change quite a bit as you make your way across the country. At the start in Roncesvlles, the towns and architecture look more alpine than you might otherwise expect but then it is certainly up there in the hills. In fact, upon arrival, it was chilly, wet and foggy. But the morning we left couldn’t have been better weather. I think we lucked out generally. The weather was excellent all along the route. We dodged rain a few times and it was certainly warm a few days but not bad.

The actual Camino route is mostly a trail. Sometimes it’s off road, sometimes it runs along the road and sometimes it is the road. Since we were on road bikes we deviated from the traditional route from time to time.

If you’re going to do the route, I highly recommend you get a credencial. It’s essentially a type of passport and churches and other places along the way have stamps to prove you have made your way along the pilgrimage. Mostly it’s just fun to fill it up with stamps. You have to stop at churches and take a look around, and then sure enough you find someone there to stamp your credencial. In Santiago you can get an official document as proof of your journey.

Had I gone to more effort to chronicle the trip from day to day I might have a lot more notes here. Each day really deserves its own set of notes. Every little town you stop in along the way is interesting.

Though I liked all the places we stopped, I particularly liked going through the Basque and Rioja wine regions. I’ve included a photo of me along the way in that area between Laguardia and Haro. It was one of my favorite routes/days. Low traffic, winding through vineyards with great weather. What more do you want as a cyclist?

The map here plus the stats below that follow came from a little Garmin bike computer I took along. The elevation profile below is telling. While clearly not a flat route, the terrain is not mountainous. We never got over 5000 feet of elevation. But there were days that had a bit more elevation gain.

From left to right, that first spike in the elevation profile was the route into Laguardia.

The tour was done in two week-long editions. You could do either one, or both. I and 4 others did both. The rest of the tour group – another dozen – met us mid way and did the latter half of the route. As you can see from the elevation profile, the 2nd half of the tour had a couple more interesting climbs. That said, only a couple few of us actually did those climbs. The tour group arranged for transport for most on that spike in the middle. Most chose that as a hiking day along the Camino. The climb wasn’t that bad though. And yet I was glad that we went up the direction we did. Note the backside of that mid spike in the elevation profile. It was a very steep descent!

That long and mostly flat section in the middle of the elevation profile was referred to as The Meseta. The inner plateau. It had everything from vineyards, to sunflowers, poppies and wheat fields. Our longest day of 70 miles was on the Meseta. The photo included above in this posting of the open road and wide open spaces was on the Meseta.

You can also see some of the tour group below. One of the guys snapped a good shot of us on our way to the last group dinner.

Cycling Through Rioja

Last Dinner Group

The Stats


The Salt Lick – Austin (actually Driftwood area)

I hadn’t been out to the Salt Lick in a long time. But, it’s the kind of place that doesn’t change that much over the years. With it being the Thanksgiving Day weekend it wasn’t like I was in need of a lot more food. I’ve been more than well fed in recent days. But with some out-of-towners saying they really wanted to go to the Salt Lick it seemed like a good day to go check it out again.

With weather wet and in the 40’s I would have figured there wasn’t a lot of folks that were interested in getting out and driving down to the Driftwood area to have a big meal of BBQ. But then of course I’d be wrong. Now as crowds go, they can be a lot larger at the Salt Lick. You can wait for hours. But arriving mid afternoon on a holiday weekend Sunday, we got in right away.

I got the baby back ribs but had the luxury of sampling some of the brisket as well as the sausage. The ribs and the brisket were very enjoyable. Wasn’t as much of a fan of the sausage. BBQ aficionados from here in central Texas can sometimes pooh-pooh the Salt Lick. It’s touristy and this or that and doesn’t measure up to some other vaunted BBQ place somewhere in TX. But they’re popular and have been for ages for a reason. It tastes good. And the service is good especially considering the throng of people they deal with routinely.

These days, they also have a wine tasting place right on the other side of the dining room where you can find Texas wines that just happen to go quite well with a plate of BBQ. We opted for a bottle of Fall Creek Tempranillo sourced from the Salt Lick vineyard. Can’t get more local than that, and it worked well with the barbecue.

Sides were potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, jalapeños, pickles, onions and mounds of bread. I passed on the onions and bread but tried the rest. All fine if not exactly piping hot. I’m not as much of a fan of the sauces but that’s just personal taste.

All in all, can’t beat a trip out to the start of the hill country and some tasty BBQ. A nice finish to the Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Austin, Texas – Fall Color 2015 – part 3 – stalking color

With temps hovering in the low 40’s and everything looking wet and gray it wasn’t exactly an inviting day for my usual weekend pursuit of cycling so it was time to hit the trail. And since I’m routinely in search of fall color around here at this time of year it was a good opportunity to look for some colorful foliage.

Rusty Yellow

Many of the leaves this year have a kind of rusty appearance. Like the color just couldn’t quite take hold. I wonder if it’s because it’s been very wet – for Austin – this fall?

We don’t seem to get those big hillsides full of colorful trees around here so you have to get close to take in the color. Real close!

I spotted this little group of leaves shortly after getting on the trail. When I see three leaves together like this my first thought is always poison ivy but I don’t think that’s what this is. But who knows?

Wet Leaves

A bit further down the trail, I happened upon a section that was mostly leaves underfoot. The tree above was practically bare already. I really liked the colors though. This spot just off the trail hadn’t been trampled.

Red Leaves

This pretty tree was next to where the trail was covered by leaves. Loved the color. Here again though some of that rusty kind of color.

Can’t Quite Decide

The reds and greens together on these oak leaves were beautiful. But it’s like the tree couldn’t quite decide it was time to get colorful or not. Both brilliant green and brilliant red at the same time.

I think I have gotten my fall color fix in at this point but I may yet spot some more this year.

Austin, Texas – Fall Color 2015 – part 2

Just when I think our fall color for the year is gone I run across a bit more while out and about today. As my earlier note suggested, we can see spurts of color emerge from Oct to Christmas around here. It’s just rarely a whole lot at once. When I spot it, I admire it and if I’m lucky enough to have a camera handy I’ll snag a shot. Today was one of those days. I noticed this at the intersection of Hwy 2222 and Hwy 360 earlier this afternoon. I don’t know what kind of tree it is, but it’s one of the few species this year with brightly colored leaves. Can anyone tell me?

Austin, Texas – Fall Color 2015

Fall Color

Our fall color this year in the Austin and central Texas area hasn’t been spectacular. I still hold out some hope we’ll see some bright trees between now and Christmas. The season change happens very slowly here and you might see some bit of color change as early Oct but more often now, around Thanksgiving, and up till Christmas.

It’s been pretty wet and cloudy on a regular basis here this fall. Great for filling up the lakes and creeks but doesn’t seem to do much for bright colors.

I happened by this little cluster of leaves last weekend out on the trail in my neighborhood. You take what you can get. You can find a few other pics of recent color if you paw through the Instagram photos in the righthand sidebar.

Visiting Baigorri Winery

While I was visiting Laguardia, my host at the casa rural I was staying suggested I give the Baigorri winery a try. It wasn’t too far a drive and even though it was a weekday they did a special tasting menu following the tour – if you wanted to go for the whole package. Sounded like a great way to spend a good chunk of the day so she set it up for me.

Click through to the winery link above and you’ll see the architecture of the winery is unique. From the road it looks like just an empty glass building that you can see through. As you get in though you realize it’s built on a hillside and what’s visible from the road is just the glass top floor. The winery and offices and everything else is down below and toward the back.

This architecture has a purpose. The production of the wine at Baigorri is done entirely via gravity. They don’t pump the juice around from one container to the next. The multistory nature of the building allows everything to flow by gravity. If I tried to explain why it makes a difference I probably wouldn’t do it justice. But this website does a decent job of explaining.

The tour was just two of us. And the other person spoke Spanish. The tour guide (Rocio) did her best with the two of us, splitting between Spanish first and then following that with English. There was a lot more Spanish than English but I got a good intro to the place and their wines.

At the very back of the winery, past all the aging barrels, you emerge into a restaurant with nice views of the vineyards beyond. The countryside you see in the photo at the top of this post. That’s where the tour ended and where I enjoyed a fantastic tasting menu paired with the Baigorri wines. I snapped a photo of the tasting menu which you see posted here. I didn’t catch the name of the server but she was very helpful and nice. The wine and the food were excellent!

I have no idea what a visit here is like on the weekend but visiting mid week allowed for some very personal service. As I noted, only two of us on the tour. And only two tables of us at with the tasting menu. Interestingly the other table was English speaking and had their own personal English speaking tour guide. Something tells me they planned to buy a lot more than I did.

Laguardia, Spain – A Place to Relax

Here it is October and I’m still trying to catch up on posts of my summer visit to Spain. It’s raining like crazy here in central Texas this weekend so it provides a good opportunity to spend a little time jotting notes here.

After San Sebastián, my next stop was back inland. I had targeted wine country and Laguardia is in the heart of that. Although strictly speaking it’s in the Basque Country, Laguardia is associated with the Rioja DOC for wines. If you’ve had wine from Spain, good chance you’ve had one from somewhere in the Rioja.

I hadn’t specifically targeted Laguardia but I’m glad that’s where I landed. I had not done that much research. I knew I was looking for some place interesting to stay in the Rioja and I simply used the map features of TripAdvisor to iterate through places that looked interesting (and reviewed well). I found a little ‘casa rural‘ called Erletxe. Your guess is as good as mine on how to pronounce that Basque name though I’m sure I was told on arrival. I encourage you to click through to the website. Maria there was such a great hostess. Very friendly and more than that, very helpful in suggesting things to see and wineries to taste in town and in the area. The room was clean and comfortable and breakfasts were great. It was like staying with a family member.

Laguardia itself is a very small walled town. You can [leisurely] walk most of it in a few hours or less. While there are some service vehicles that occasionally ply the tiny streets it’s otherwise entirely pedestrian – and thus a quiet place to stroll the streets. At the north end of the town is a park that rings a good chunk of that portion of town just outside the walls. See photo below. A quiet place just to sit and look out on the surrounding vineyards.

There are a few interesting winery tours and tastings in the town. I visit a couple of note. What you quickly understand from these tours is that beneath the buildings and walkable streets of the town it is literally honeycombed with wine cellars. A map of the cellars shows they are under pretty much all of the buildings. Moisture and temperature conditions are uniform and have made for great production and storage over the centuries.

The first I visited was Bodegas Casa Primicia. The tour is excellent as were the wines. The facility has seemingly been only recently renovated and after the tour of the cellar area the upstairs tasting area is thoroughly modern and offers great views of the countryside. As you can see from the photo here, I enjoyed the Tempranillo here. Tempranillo is one of the principal grapes from the region.

Also a great tour though not quite as modern a facility was Bodega El Fabuslista. You’ll see from the photo here of our tour/tasting guide that the final tasting was done down in the cellar. The light down there was very interesting and I liked how the photo of our guide turned out. Wines here were good too.

As yet a future post will reveal, I was back through Laguardia again after picking up a bike tour. I enjoyed that 2nd visit too and really hope I get the opportunity to visit again.

Winebelly, Austin

I was returning to Austin from Las Vegas and a work event, and happy to be home. Only one day of what was otherwise a few days conference.

Meanwhile, I had an errand to run upon arrival in the south end of Austin later but that meant I had time on my hands for a just bit – and for a change, my flight was on time – and all I’d had earlier in the day was some breakfast around 7 in Las Vegas. So… I was also hungry. Two hour time change and all.

It’s been a [very long] while since I’ve made my way to Winebelly on Oltorf just off south 1st street but for someone returning from the airport it wasn’t far off the beaten path and I’ve been meaning to try the place again. I pulled in around 5 and not surprisingly I had my choice of places to sit. It was a welcome respite from dealing with rush hour.

A few things:

First, the choices by the glass at Winebelly are excellent. I’ll be back to try again. I found Prieto Pricudo by the glass and it’s surprising I found it at all in my opinion. It was a ‘wine find’ during my summer visit to northern Spain this year and I’d never heard of it before that.

Snacks at that hour included Truffle Fries… come on… gotta have some of those fries. And I did.

The other pics here are of Ryan Fulmer, General Manager (based only on my reading) about Winebelly.

In the course of chatting, Ryan recounted a harrowing story of his son in the military recently in Afghanistan. While I won’t elaborate based on the personal accounting, it was a riveting story and no doubt he’s [still] breathing a sigh of relief that fate worked in his favor.

San Sebastián, Spain & Tasty Pintxos

I only stayed the one night in La Vid. The next morning I headed north to the coast and San Sebastián.

The weather was pretty nasty that day. On and off again rain. Even so, the drive up to San Sebastián was quite pretty. In fact, the roads were fantastic and with all the tunnels they’ve cut through the hills, it’s really an easy drive.

I didn’t have much of an itinerary planned for San Sebastián. It’s a city with a beautiful beach and lots of great food. That’s reason enough to go, right? My hotel was steps from both.

As you can see from the couple of photos I’ve posted here, the city and its beach are beautiful from just about any angle. I think the cloudy weather that day only added to the beauty. I took the opportunity to walk around quite a bit that afternoon, including up to the summit of Monte Urgull. From that high point, you get spectacular views of the city – and it’s a nice little workout before heading back into the ‘old town’ to munch on tapas.

The tapas in San Sebastián (and throughout the Basque country) are referred to as Pintxos. Click through for a nice explanation but what’s really cool about San Sebastián is the old town is simply stacked with little bars filled with Pintxos and local wine. Walking through the narrow streets of that part of the city there are dozens and dozens of places.

The wine of San Sebastián is Txakoli. It’s a light, low alcohol, effervescent white wine made and served in this part of Spain. The way it’s served is also a form of entertainment by the folks working in the Pintxos bars. The wine glass is placed on the bar, and the bartender raises the bottle above their head and then pours. Since it’s a slightly sparkling wine, there’s a lot of fizz and splashing. It can be a fun mess. It’s also pretty tasty. Click thru the link above to see an example.

Only one night in San Sebastián. From there, back south and into wine country.

El Lagar de Isilla – La Vid, Spain

In a perfect world I would have written my notes on my recent visit to Spain while I was visiting. But as I’ve discovered on previous trips, that can be difficult. You want to explore the place instead of sit at the keyboard. So now, a couple months later, I’m taking a bit of time to jot down some memories. It would have been sooner, but it’s a busy time of year at work. (I’ve back dated these posts to the time when they actually happened.)

So where do I start? Madrid, that’s where. But I wasn’t there for long. I wanted to check out some of the wine regions of Spain. From Austin I flew to Madrid but immediately got a car at the airport and had made plans to head north. So with the Garmin affixed to the windshield, I headed to the northern parts of Spain and the Ribera del Duero, San Sebastian and La Rioja.

But that’s a LONG way to drive after a such a long flight and I knew I’d be tired. Flights to Europe often arrive in the morning and this was no exception but trying to get some solid shuteye in ‘economy’ class rarely pans out very well for me. So I had made plans to find a place to stay along the way.

I’m a planner and I rarely leave it to chance where I’ll be staying. So I had done some searching earlier in the year on TripAdvisor and happened across what turned out to be a great little place to stay in the little town of La Vid, Spain.

As a fan of good wine, what else could be better as a first stop than a little inn that’s also a winery with a great little restaurant? The place is called El Lagar de Isilla, and it was a great little waypoint to recharge after the long trip.

Aside from El Lagar de Isilla, there isn’t much going on in La Vid. Across from the inn/bodega is the monastery Santa María de La Vid that is pretty interesting to walk around but otherwise obviously pretty quiet.

The photo included below is inside the winery part of the inn. There’s a little wine shop and the photo is of the larger tasting room. At the time I was there, I was the only one doing a wine tasting and they held it in the shop.

El Lagar de Isilla is in the heart of Ribera del Duero and their wines were excellent. I’d come a long way, so I got their “best” flight. Favorite for me was their Gran Reserva.

Dinner and then later the next morning, breakfast, at the hotel were both great. The place is only a couple years old and everything still looked pretty new. If you’re passing through, check the place out.

Headed to Spain!

With summer arriving I’m back on the road and this time back to Spain. I’ve been one other time but that was to Mallorca and to the Costa Brava. Like that trip, this one is largely about cycling, though not in the first week.

At 4am the bike cases were set out on the porch and ready for a shuttle ride to the airport. A long journey awaits. Like last year’s visit to Italy, this year’s trip routes through Washington’s Dulles airport. Unlike last year though, I went out of my way to avoid arranging for a 3rd leg of air travel. I’ll be going from Washington to Madrid and then from there renting a car and heading north. Last year I went from Dulles to Frankfurt Germany and had to sprint through the airport to make my connection after a delay in the international flight. My luggage was unable to sprint.

This year I planned to be delayed out of both Austin and out of Washington. It’s sad that we have to plan to be delayed, but that is the norm with airline travel for me. If it’s not for you, consider yourself lucky.

My flight from Austin to Washington was in fact a normal one and essentially on time. Fantastic. So, I had hours to kill at Dulles. I spent most of it in the United lounge. One of the few perks of having an “Explorer” card from United is that they give you a couple of lounge passes a year. I don’t generally care or have time for one but this time I had hours of time. So I hung out there. The photo below is from there. Clearly others had plenty of time to kill there as well.

The international flight to Spain boarded as expected on time and with little fanfare. And yet, no surprise, this year’s international flight was also delayed in leaving. And even more than last year. There was some kind of oxygen thing in the cockpit, followed by some kind of snafu with the oven in the galley in the rear of the plane. All tolled we sat there at the gate for about an hour.

And yet, somehow 7 to 8 hours later we essentially arrived in Spain on time. Hmm… sometimes I wonder if ‘maint’ issues are manufactured so that a plane can arrive as planned give the weather conditions of the day. Clearly we must have had some pretty good prevailing winds. We made up nearly an hour of delay.