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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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and outrageously delicious food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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