TripAdvisor and Google Maps don’t have to be the master of your journey

In the summer of 1998, my girlfriend and I loaded up our little Nissan and left Krakow for a road trip to Spain with a Lonely Planet dog in Polish and a map, which we first consulted on the side of a silent Carpathian road in Slovakia. Only an hour from home and already lost. On the other side of our turnout was a baby blue Skoda, an elderly couple inside. The woman in a scarf over a pink beehive stayed in the passenger seat while her husband in a pancake cap got out of his jumper, shuffled over to us and leaned deep into my open window. Onions, garlic and sweat filled the car.

“Where are you from?” he asked in Slovak.


“Krakow,” he repeated, scratching his gray whiskers. “Tell me, how much is a kilo of cucumber in Krakow?”

“Excuse me?” my girlfriend asked, not sure if something had been lost in translation.

“Krakow. cucumbers. Kg. How much?”

With an almost straight face he said, “Three zlotys?”

“Three zlotys?”

He got out of the window, took his cap off his head and scratched. “Three zlotys,” he muttered and turned to his wife.

We folded the map like last week’s newspaper, put it in the glove box, and drove off laughing through Austria and a wrong turn into Slovenia, where we stayed at a rustic roadside inn, then zig-zagged through Italy where our hunger drove to a little mom and pop grocery store where we bought two of the tastiest sandwiches – ever – and ate them on the sidewalk under a freeway overpass.

We had all summer, or at least until our money ran out, and we wandered through Spain, following nothing more than our impulses and curiosity. Our guide helped us locate the accommodation and our karma led us to the best and worst dives, all with legs of jamon hanging from the ceiling, marinating in a steady haze of cigarette smoke. Some dripped grease into handy yellow plastic containers, others onto the bar, onto our heads, into our drinks. A bar in Estella was decorated with pictures of Elvis and had the first jukebox I had ever seen in Europe, mostly loaded with Elvis and Screaming Jay Hawkins songs. The owner had Elvis favors and a humble pompadour and invited us on a motorcycle picnic trip to France with his friends the next day. It was an epic vacation, our first together and completely unplanned.

My partner and I have always been wired for impulsive travel. Before we met in Krakow, which I visited on a whim in 1991 and later moved to, he had already hitchhiked in Spain and would do so again. In 2001, our impulse led us to Tbilisi, a raw, makeshift city then operating entirely out of the cuff, and a city we found impossible to leave. Inevitably we became journalists, a gig that allowed us to experience the world for a living, even though work is never a vacation. But we still travel in many forms: to visit friends, family, work holidays. However, we rarely have the luxury of time to make legendary adventures like we used to.

While our travel style has changed (we no longer drop acid on the night bus from La Paz to Tijuana), the age of information has arrived to enhance our travel experience. Those tattered Lonely Planets that managed to survive on our shelves have become dusty relics of a lost era, souvenirs. Today, we turn on the computer and do half of our trips before leaving the house. On a family trip to Rome several years ago, we booked our flight, rented a car, found a room, and bought tickets for a tour of the Colosseum all online. I was so deep in the intricacies of the world wide web that I fell straight down the rabbit hole of Tripadvisor and Google reviews to consult the collective reviews of other tourists like TJMule and TravelBunny to find a good restaurant in the Eternal City. Without realizing it, I had clicked all the spontaneity out of our trip and guaranteed a terrific dining experience, to boot.

This June, we returned to Spain after a 25-year hiatus for a wedding in Andalucia with no guidebook, no road map. Technology would be our friend, not our master. We rented a car online and used GPS, which for better or worse kept us off the side of the road and away from curious cucumber farmers. Just like in the old days, we closed our eyes and stuck our finger on the map, only it was on the screen. “Let’s go to Ronda!” Using the web to book an Airbnb, we ventured out of Malaga and “discovered” an ancient Celtic city on the edge of the magnificent El Tajo Gorge.

Two and a half decades is a long way from a tapas bar, and I wanted our daughter’s first one to be memorable, so I looked at some local blogs. Both recommended Bodega San Francisco, a lively and welcoming neighborhood utopia brimming with fun just two minutes away from our digs. If a western tourist had looked at it, they would have undoubtedly taken issue with the two plasma screens showing obscene low-budget zombie motion graphics and probably ignored the garlicky juiciness of Gambas al Pil Pil. Our 12 year old didn’t want to eat anywhere else.

“But honey, there are so many places to try!”

Ronda is not an easy town to get away from, but we had a glorious three day wedding to get to Jerez de la Frontera. The binge took us to the bodegas of Castillo de Machaudo and Tio Pepe and the beachfront SAAM Club de Mar. After the outbreak, we ignored the web and wandered the lethargic late-afternoon streets around the 11th-century Alcázar de Jerez. My stomach growling, we sat down at a restaurant along the Plaza del Arenal, the city’s main square. 500 years ago, they fought duels and bulls in this square. Today there is a huge monument to the dictator of the 1920s, Miguel Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja. A sloppy waiter dropped greasy menus with generic photos of what they were serving. We looked at them, at each other and left. A nearby alley off the square leads us to a warm, colorful courtyard occupied by Mulai Jerez, an artistic oasis of Spanish fusion and lots of wine. The ox wontons are what pasta dreams are made of, while the tuna tartare melted over every taste bud to end up in that special spot of great culinary memories.

We spent our last days in Sanlúcar de Barremeda, where the conquistadors once set out to plunder the New World. Author Matt Goulding, who has eaten Spain well inside and out, took us to the legendary Casa Balbino where the tortillitas de camarones were as impressive as he said they would be. For the rest of our stay we relied on local advice, followed our bearings and Google maps, which helped me locate the Sanlucar fish market, a sensory overload that forced me to buy handfuls of fresh shrimp and cuttlefish to saute at our Airbnb. crisp cookware.

One afternoon, while the girls took a slow siesta, I hit the barrio to cute bodegas, less social dives, and Taberna der Guerrita, a local’s hangout that’s been filling wine glasses for 40 years. The next day, I shared my favorite discoveries with my wife and stopped at Guerrita, where we grunted over every bite of the stuffed chorizo ​​mushrooms. We returned the next day for our last dinner in Spain.

If I wasn’t so internet shy, I would have learned that Taberna der Guerrita has an extensive collection of Spanish wines, a special tasting room in the back, and is a destination for some of the country’s most important wine lovers. Knowing that beforehand, however, would only have disrupted an otherwise happy, albeit short, family vacation. “No! Not again!” they would say, repeating a familiar refrain. “There are so many places to try!”

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