Bilbao > London > New York: Vegetable Sandwiches, English Champagne, Crappy Flights, Dead Plants, and THE END

All good and bad things come to an end, and so has my fabulous summer of 2014. All in all better than 2012 (chicken pox) and 2013 (broken neck, Lyme disease). Although there’s still three weeks to the start of classes, knock on wood.

No more news from Bilbao except that at the crappy airport bar I finally got documentary proof for my American friends of the contents of a Spanish vegetable sandwich.


Namely: white bread, trace amounts of lettuce, mayonnaise, tuna, egg, and in this strange case, carrots instead of the traditional tomato. During the ensuing Facebook debate, Miss H theorized that “tomatoes don’t keep as long as carrots, probably that’s why they didn’t use them… yuck,” and she is probably right because, for the modest amount of 3.80€ ($5.09) this came out of a vending machine. While I did, daredevilishy, venture a bite, that’s all I had (or intended to have). I’m obviously willing to pay five bucks for photographing rights (can hear my mother here: the spendthrift! where did I go wrong????).

I do feel some affection for this vile mash because it somehow relates to another Spanish culinary quirk whereby the word “salad” merely designates a mixture of things that may or may not be vegetable in origin (see for example, the menu at this nice restaurant in Bilbao), so that it is possible to eat a huge slab of foie gras, melted goat cheese, nuts, and cranberries, and still swear with your hand on the bible that “I just had a salad.”

I had to overnight in London, as my USA-Europe roundtrip had been kindly furnished by the University of Cambridge. Third time’s the charm and this time I found the Royal Park, a charming little hotel a hop, skip, and jump from Paddington Station and the Heathrow Express, for only half an arm and half a leg ($291 for an air-conditioned free wi-fi queen double). It clearly wasn’t renovated too recently and a slight a/c noise required ear plugs, but the décor was oh-so-Londonite


and both the desk personnel and the chap who helped with my luggage were very, very nice. (I even forgot an envelope with work documents and they wrote offering to mail it.) A friend even recognized the Royal Park (I keep wanting to say Court or Palm) on Facebook as the place where she stayed for her honeymoon some years ago!

I was lucky this time to catch Miss MC (of Pondicherry fame) in town, and we had a lovely ladies-who-dine time at the FABULOUS Gilbert Scott Brasserie in the St. Pancras Renaissance. Three glasses of wine and a salad came to more than $100 but it’s London (sigh!), and who cares when the company is first-rate and one finds out there is such a thing as a deliciously bone-dry English sparkling and the place feels like your own palace:


Miss MC also confirmed you really do not want to stay at the Tavistock if you can possibly avoid it–she may have called the time in her life she had to stay there “rock bottom,” but then again there was a huge domestic disaster involved. AND she revealed (too late for me this time, alas) a secret, beautiful, and inexpensive alternative, the Club at Goodenough College. Which certainly looks much better than good enough.

I didn’t have enough time in the morning to attempt my Westminster Abbey dancing-on-poets’-graves excursion (next time!), but luckily the hotel is also ideally located right across from Hyde Park. That’s just a public service announcement, though; in truth I decided to lounge in my sunlight-filled room all morning and have breakfast in bed, which was the ideal thing to do. At least I got to set foot on Paddington Station, since my second most-loved childhood character (after Pippi Longstocking) was Paddington Bear. Who, BTW, is coming to the big screen.

Room service remembered (alas!) to bring up a bucket of ice as I’d requested, but forgot the salt for my eggs. Fortunately I am never without my own, thanks to my adored BFF Mr. V, who did not rest until he perfected the ultimate little purse mill:


(Sturdy and non-spill thanks to his addition of that white rubber cane tip on the left, originally purchased for another of his crazy design experiments.)

No one took me to the airport in the Rolls-Royce parked outside,


but in any case I looooove the 15-minute Heathrow Express, although it’s 34£ round-trip as opposed to taking the tube from King’s Cross–ease and comfort are serious considerations if, like me, you really shouldn’t be lugging around a gazillion-KG suitcase at risk of paralysis. In such circumstances (as in so many others), money is your friend (words of wisdom from Cruella de Ville). And it’s still cheaper than the damn 90£ one-way cab.

And I LOOOOOOVE Heathrow, perhaps the only airport in the world about which I’ve said this (with my, granted, limited travel experience outside of Europe/Caribbean/North America). Most especially, lately, I love Oriel Grande Brasserie on Terminal 3, which serves a bitchin’ burger, impossibly crispy fries, and a very very friendly Côtes du Provence rosé, AND… if you travel solo like me, you get to sit at a marble bistro table complete with TWO ELECTRICAL OUTLETS underneath (and there’s that Heathrow free 45-min wi-fi too). In between the larger booths,


sheer brilliance! (Except for those people who, as above, take too many carry-on valises.)

There was also the Great Expectation of flying, for the first time, Virgin Atlantic (Virgin Virgin!). And lo and behold, what could make one feel safer and more twinkle-eyed than to be on the boarding line for Tinkerbell!


(Although I saw another plane whose Tinkerbell-analogue was holding a glass of champagne, which I’m sure was more happenin’ than mine.)

Miss MC (who, for full disclosure, is often upgraded because of her V-A credit card) could not say enough wonderful things about Virgin. Ursula chimed in on Facebook that “my Virgin flight was WONDERFUL!” And Mr. Blacksong, always a voice of reason, pointed out that “Virgin’s a bit like Southwest at its best. It isn’t that it’s actually awesome, but they know how to fake it just a little bit.”

Sadly, for me the flight sucked just as much as every other flight, and perhaps even more given that the flight attendant served me the inedible chicken instead of the pasta for which I’d asked, and by the time she got back to me the pasta was gone so NO DINNER FOR YOU, MISS FINNICKY! (Doubly thankful for Oriel!) And the girl in the next seat kept sliding on to me as she slept (much less interesting than teddy-bear salt guy on the JFK-LHR flight last month-boo The People!). AND my individual entertainment unit lost all sound midflight, but not before I could watch the worst movie with which Woody Allen ever had anything to do–featuring him as a pimp and John Turturro as a gigolo in a Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhood, with Vanessa Paradis as the lonely mother-of-six rabbi widow who falls for said gigolo, and somewhere in there a threesome between Sharon Stone, Sofía Vergara, and TURTURRO! (Me, Oedipus, with my precious eyes that I may now have to gouge out.)

Fast-forward to reality, and I am HOME. A little of it bitter, as my former


suddenly looks like


And there’s a mysterious note underneath that says “Don’t Panic.”

Also a little sweet, however (a lot sweet!). All those dear friends who couldn’t wait to see me, like Miss Ooh La La who wrote two days ago that we must DEFINITELY do something together immediately, like Saturday–only to follow this morning with “I went ahead and said yes to other plans for Saturday night. just fyi. welcome back!” At least the Welcoming Committee (from Bilbao) is currently in Chicago, and planning to come visit for a couple of days early next week.

And I’m sitting in my air-conditioned living room sipping tea from a glass chock-full-of ice cubes. And in a single morning (early jetlagged) have already tended to the most crucial matters: overnight wine delivery, same-day manicure and emergency root touch-up appointment with a mystery hairstylist because mine is on vacation (!!!!). And this, the last entry of plomaipel at least for now.

It’s been fun, if not my favorite genre (I am too obsessive about content, grammar, style, to not be all-consumed by a blog). Also a bit scary to suddenly find that even without search terms I’ve had readers in a few places where I’m pretty sure I don’t know anyone,


despite knowing blogs straddle a fine line between private and public writing.

But I do love to write! And it’s been great to keep in touch with many friends who have “interacted” about my summer adventures via Facebook, texts, phone, etc (even a few blog comments), and a good way to gather travel information for the many who are always asking me for recommendations in my favorite cities. I hope my tips are useful to the “strangers” too.

I might write more when I next go to Barcelona or San Juan, or about an interesting NYC place/event. Until then, à bientôt! Back to my a/c and my ice.

About WRF

New York-based Spanish Cultural Studies professor and academic author venturing (nervously) into new forms of writing: travel and food-logue, cultural commentary, pseudophilosophical speculation, opinion, reminiscence, prophecy, examination of conscience.
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