I sometimes envy my friends who have obsessions — I mean the mild kind, such as collecting ceramic mermaids, breeding show dogs, or hiking all 424 US national parks. Naturally some folks go overboard, like Jean-François Vernetti with his 11,111 Do Not Disturb signs, dermatologist Manfred Rothstein, who owns 675 backscratchers from 71 nations, and Nancy Hoffman, curator of 730 umbrella sleeves. I don't find any of these hobbies particularly tempting. But as you have no doubt observed, pursing any keen interest can transform a seemingly ordinary trip into an epic quest.
Long before selfies were a thing, a friend of mine had his travel companion shoot hours and hours of home movies of their youthful tour of Europe. Every frame showed my friend standing stiffly in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, the Leaning Tower of Pisa … I can’t tell you where else he went, because during the viewing, seated on a plush sofa in a darkened room with a third glass of wine at my elbow, I soon dozed off. I’d likely still be there now if not for one my fellow guests, who woke everyone up by turning on the lights and announcing brightly, “Well, this has been lovely!”
“Good grief,” I whispered to Rich. “Was I snoring?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered back. “I lost consciousness somewhere around Stonehenge.”
But looking at my friend’s face, glowing with happy memories, I knew he was reliving his grand tour, satisfied to have carried out his vow to obtain footage of every stop.
And to me, that’s what travel is all about: framing your journey as an adventure that will let you come home feeling fulfilled. A month ago, Rich and I set out to explore some of Spain’s loonier corners, visiting hotbeds of science, religion, art, culture, cuisine, archeology, history, and tradition. Each one inspired hours of discussion about the quirkiness of humanity and why Nuttiness is so important to our survival as a species.
“I’ll tell you one thing Nuttiness does,” Rich told me yesterday. “It teaches you how to laugh about almost anything.”
Laughter certainly helped us stay (relatively) sane as we coped with the various stumbling blocks a capricious Fate saw fit to strew in our path. It began with our first stop, Jaén, where we were given the wrong street number for our lodgings. What, me worry? Kindly neighbors and shopkeepers provided help and support until the muddle was sorted. Fast forward to this week when, just before heading to the airport for our departure from Spain, we ordered paella at a popular café. What arrived was rice studded with crabs and shrimp so tiny they literally had no meat on them.
“There’s no there there!” I said to Rich in dismay.
He burst out laughing and exclaimed, “The perfect end to the Nutters Tour!”
Those incidents were the bookends of a trip characterized by endless cockamamie confusions, the kind that might have proved seriously annoying except that they fit so perfectly with the theme of our journey that they gave us plenty of chuckles. And stories I’ll be telling for years.
Many of those stories revolve around our lodgings. I frequently use Airbnb and always appreciate the way they encourage hosts to provide welcoming touches such as a homemade guest book with directions to the best neighborhood pubs, cute photos of the building during a rare snowfall, and tips for operating appliances. But like many travelers, I’m finding myself a bit exasperated with Airbnb’s hidden fees, which they spring on you so late in the process you can’t bring yourself to start over. So this time, we decided to go with booking.com.
The booking.com infrastructure is refreshingly straightforward about pricing but a tiny bit compulsive about withholding key details until the last minute — and beyond. In Burgos, for instance, we again had an incomplete address and the wrong contact phone number. When we finally reached the manager by phone, he gave us incorrect keypad entry instructions. However, being Nutters, we simply reversed what we were told and bingo! We were in.
The accommodations themselves ranged from decent to fabulous. Most were Ikea modern but one I dubbed 50 Shades of Gray — not because it inspired any kinky hijinks but because of the color scheme; even the kitchen tablecloth was the color of ashes. A few apartments had such sleekly modern showers and washing machines it took me forever to figure out how to run them. It was like suddenly finding myself in the cockpit of SpaceX's Starship rocket and being told, “Oh, just fly the darn thing, will you?” I reminded myself to be grateful, knowing these stimulating problem-solving exercises will keep my brain’s synapses firing at warp speed for years to come.
Late on Friday, Rich and I left Spain for California, and ever since we landed, I’ve been wandering around our San Anselmo cottage marveling at how easy it is to work the appliances and wondering why I own so much stuff. That said, it’s been heaven to cook meals in a well-stocked kitchen and dress in something I haven’t seen constantly for weeks.
As I catch my breath after the Nutters Tour of Spain, my thoughts are turning to this summer’s Nutters Tour of California and September’s Nutters Tour of Italy. Every corner of the globe has wonderfully goofy people, places, and traditions, and I’m determined to find more of the most outlandish ones and write about them here.
For planning assistance, I’ve decided that for the first time I’ll reach out to (drum roll, please) chatbots.
The cyborg community is solidly behind my decision.
AI chatbots have been the talk of the planet since November, but now it’s finally dawned on world leaders that they, too, might be replaced by robots right along with everyone else. They (the humans, I mean, not the bots) are calling for a six-month hiatus in research while somebody figures out how to install proper controls on the machines. Good luck with that! AI’s $100 billion industry is projected to grow twenty times larger by 2030. Nothing is slowing this speeding train, folks. Might as well jump on board and hold on.
So this summer, I’ll be working with ChatGPT and their hot competitor, Google’s Bard. “Both ChatGPT and Bard have their flaws,” reports Forbes, “The chatbots have each been known to spew misinformation and present biased responses.” Gosh, that’s not worrying at all. Still, Forbes says, one of the best ways to use the new chatbots is planning travel; apparently AI can’t actually book tickets (yet) but can help by suggesting destinations, comparing prices, and checking luggage restrictions — so we can avoid moments like this:
I'm ready to put AI to the test. What do you reckon — will my new pals Bard and ChatGPT understand the idea of a Nutters Tour? Can a mechanical brain recognize true quirkiness? Or will they try to send me to places selling backscratchers, umbrella sleeves, and ceramic mermaids? I have no idea. If you’re already exploring travel chatbots, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Meanwhile, I’m doing my research and will update you as my AI experiment unfolds. Stay tuned.
JUST JOINING US?
I'VE NOW COMPLETED THE NUTTERS TOUR OF SPAIN
Spain Never Runs Out of Offbeat Curiosities (Zaragoza, Barcelona, Tarragona)
I Travel Deep into the Heart of Nuttiness (Palencia & Pamplona)
Road Warriors: Let the Good Times Roar (Léon & Oviedo)
Travel Alert: You Can't Always Get What You Want... (Madrid & Burgos)
Gobsmacked at Every Turn but Embracing the Chaos (Jaén & Valdepeñas)
All Aboard for the Nutters Tour of Spain (Packing & Organizing)
UP NEXT: THE NUTTERS TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
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Denise San Antonio Zeman
4/18/2023 10:08:45 pm
Thanks for taking us along on the Nutters Tour of Spain. Can't wait for California and Italy! I can attest to the many nutters we've encountered in both🤣
Karen K McCann
4/19/2023 01:37:52 am
Thanks for joining us on the journey, Denise! As you attest, the world is filled with nutters, and it's great for us all to have an opportunity to learn more about them, wherever they may be. Onward to more Nutters Tours!
4/19/2023 12:11:00 am
Think you may have checked out Forestiere Underground gardens in Fresno and of course, the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz.
Karen K McCann
4/19/2023 01:45:21 am
I'm a big fan of Mystery Spot, Betsy; as it happens, I'm sipping afternoon tea from my Mystery Spot mug right now, as I respond to your comment. But I wasn't familiar with the other two places you mention, and just looked them up. Wow. And thanks for the hot tips! Forestiere Underground Gardens look amazing. And Tor House is not only very cool, its website introduced me to the work of its former owner, poet Robinson Jeffers. I love this quote from him:
4/19/2023 01:25:33 am
With AI doing the planning, I’d be doing my own planning and then checking theirs. Hard to release all control.
Karen K McCann
4/19/2023 01:51:38 am
You're so right, Phyllis. I will be checking them against each other and then comparing that to my own research. This is about testing the chatbots in an area I know something about, to gauge how accurate their info is and get a sense of whether they really bring more to the table than I'd find in a simple Google search. There's been so much clamor and commotion about their skills, yet you hear so many stories of them "hallucinating" — that is, making stuff up. So we'll all get a chance to see how well they do under controlled conditions. Should be fun!
4/19/2023 02:16:36 pm
Karen, I can so relate! We just got back from an 8 day trip to Valencia and Málaga, and I used Booking.com as well. We've had good luck finding boutique hotels on the site so decided to check out some apartments. Both were great but, like you, we had to fiddle with the appliances. Never ever bother with drying clothes in a washer/dryer combo. Clothes always come out hot, damp and wrinkled. Enjoy your time in the States!
Karen K McCann
4/19/2023 03:50:27 pm
You're so right about those washer-dryers, Kim. They are hazardous to your wardrobe. I still mourn for a favorite pair of black trousers that accidentally wound up in the dryer cycle in a rental in Belgrade. By the time I realized what was happening, they'd shrunk to a size that would have been tight on a ten year old. I've learned my lesson!
4/19/2023 05:04:52 pm
Years ago finding the “flusher”, learning to configure shower doors and/or showering with no shower door in a bathroom same size as bedroom, & struggling with locking/unlocking bedroom doors were challenges I found very aggravating at the time. Now I can look back and have a good chuckle at what was absolutely frustrating at the time. Last summer I used Booking.com and was pleasantly surprised that everything went smoothly.
Karen K McCann
4/20/2023 05:48:07 pm
So true, Faye, that every era has its challenges. And some low-tech issues linger on; in Jaén we had "barn-style" sliding doors on the bath and kitchen that were so massively heavy it took both of us heaving mightily to open them. As for AI, I share your concerns. I fear this will usher in an era of "junk thinking" much like junk food. People will opt for convenience and allow the quality to slide seriously downhill. But AI is here to stay, so I am bracing myself for this first contact. Should be interesting.
4/21/2023 07:00:39 am
But what about the Soul? What about “spirituality”? I will need to read Jung’s “Modern Man in Search of a Soul” all over again! And what if it doesn’t fit anymore? Certainly some things are eternal!
4/20/2023 04:34:53 am
"I sometimes envy my friends who have obsessions — I mean the mild kind, such as collecting ceramic mermaids." Say what?! That friend must be a REAL nut case.
Karen K McCann
4/23/2023 06:32:22 pm
Did I say obsession? I meant a collector's natural, endearing affection. Karen, you know I love your mermaids and cherish every chance I get to visit them. The world would be a lesser place without them.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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