Vigo

Leisurely start this morning – the Spaniards don’t like visitors to their offices much before 10 am! My appointments today are in the valley (el Vallès) behind the Tibidabo mountain dominating Barcelona. Most of Barcelona’s industries seem to be clustered here, and new Poligonos Industriales are sprouting like mushrooms! Getting there involves negotiating the car through the jams of the Ronda de Dalt – the local equivalent of Paris’s Périphérique or London’s M25, on a smaller scale.

I have two meetings, then back to the airport for the flight across Spain to Vigo on the Atlantic coast. Much of our route is overcast so no views out of the window, but the final approach to Vigo airport is spectacular: we break out of the clouds and a hilly green landscape is revealed, dotted with small farmhouses. The town is set by a steep-sided fjord with three islands just offshore protecting it from the ocean. The airport runway is visible to the right, cut into the wooded hillside. To land, the plane must make a tight 270 degree left turn to lose height quickly and stay away from the hills. Seems like an airport to avoid in bad weather! There is no taxiway, the plane has to make a U-turn and double back along the runway to reach the terminal!

I check into the excellent hotel Palacio de Vigo and have to wait a while for my colleague to turn up late from a different flight, so we opt for a quick meal in a small restaurant nearby the hotel: a plate of tasty _jamon íberico_, a _pulpo a la gallega_ as I had yesterday, accompanied by slices of bread with crushed tomatoes and olive oil, ubiquitous in Spanish restaurants.

Barcelona 2004

Snow is fine whilst you are on the slopes, and we had great fun yesterday on a 5 km piste on the Altipiano di Asiago. But not so fine when commuting to the office. So I’ll be off to Spain this week, first to Barcelona and then to Vigo in Galicia. Should be warmer than here. It’s a fine start today at Venice airport – plane delayed “at least an hour if not two” due to adverse weather conditions…

Finally arrived in Barcelona one hour late, just after 7pm. As soon as I step out of the airport, the temperature difference from Italy was noticeable – off with the overcoat, gloves and hat! This is the Med – a balmy 13C and the almond trees are bursting in bloom!

Long wait for baggage, then sorted out hire car and lost my way to the hotel amongst the various expressways of Barcelona, so I finally made it to my room at 9 pm. Weaker men would have gone straight to bed, but this is Spain, one eats late and your Gastronaut is undeterred! Quick brush-up, then I head for the Paseo de Gracia, the wide, elegant boulevard lined with the fantastic Gaudì buildings. Just on this street near the Plaza de Catalunya end is *Tapa Tapa*, would you believe it, a tapas bar! I have written about this previously, it is a large commercial establishment, but convenient and with a friendly atmosphere. I sit at the long counter at the bar and order three classics from a wide selection of tapas: _chipirones fritos_ (fried squid), _patatas bravas_ (roast potatoes with mayo and mustard) and _pulpo a la gallega_ (Galician octopus, finely sliced, with olive oil and ground chili). A great snack, accompanied by a cool Löwenbräu Märzenbier (yes, not authentically Spanish as a Cerveza Damm, but one has to take what is available!) A brisk walk back to the hotel in the cool evening air gets me ready for bed.

Farinata

I’m spending the Christmas holidays in Albenga, on the Italian Riviera on the way to France. Plenty of family occasions, that are naturally a good opportunity for gastronomic discussions. A good example yesterday night when we spent an hour debating the the finer points of the making of the fish soup we will enjoy on New Year’s eve!

Awaiting the foodie treats to ring in 2004, we went to sample a local speciality, namely _farinata_. This is a “poor man’s” dish, eaten all along the Riviera and also in Tuscany. Ingredients and procedure are basic: mix chickpea flour 1:3 with water and let stand for 4-5 hours. Pour the lot in a wide baking tray smeared with olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary and pop in a hot (preferably wood fired) oven. The liquid mixture will cook rapidly and a golden brown crust will form on top of a creamy white base. It is then cut up in small chunks. Very simple and delicious served with a glass of local _Pigato_ white wine. Eat in or carry out from *Puppo*, Via Torlaro, Albenga.

Göteborg

Two hour drive up the coast today to Göteborg to visit the packaging show. A “cool morning” my Man in Sweden says – bloody freezing would be a more apt way to put it, as it is -5°C as we set off!! But the day is clear and the Swedish motorways are wonderfully clear of the traffic clogging up the rest of Europe.

Half way to our destination we come up to a police road block. Accident? Overspeeding? No – they are stopping every motorist and checking alcohol levels with a breathalyser! A strange time at nine in the morning, I wonder… but I find out the checks are there to catch those who have been binging the previous evening. With almost zero alcohol tolerance whilst driving in Sweden, apparently there may be still enough alcohol in your blood after a night’s sleep to be over the limit!

The show was, well, like most other packaging shows – The latest in cartons, bags and bottles and whirring machinery, all very boring to the uninitiated. A lot of the stands serving food and drink – and the punters are taking full advantage, considering that a small beer in this country can set you back 6 Euro! The Nordic countries have a beer classification regime that also determines the taxation levels: _lättöl_ (light beer – i.e. gnat’s water), _mellanöl_ (middle beer – i.e. like Heineken) and _starköl_ (strong beer – the Real Stuff – but alas, also the most heavily taxed!).

Coming out of the show, we notice another police breathalyser roadblock just at the exit of the exhibition hall carpark! Sneaky this – they are catching those who have been boozing on the stands! My colleague takes a long detour and we get out at another exit!

Back in Helsingborg in time for another dinner at the Scandic – I have my favourite dish in Scandinavia – _räksmörgås med ägg_ – a sandwich with a mound of shrimps layered with mayonnaise, dill and egg. Huge portions and a great meal together with a glass of Spendrups beer – _stark_, of course!

Helsingborg

Arrived at Copenhagen airport and got on a train north – very conveniently. the airport train station is just in front of the arrivals hall. Getting near freezing at this time of year – Brrr!! Good that I have my hat! Stopped along the way to visit a customer, then back on the train to Helsingor. Now it´s almost six and the train is full of commuters – I note a lot of black and brown faces – Denmark is getting to be a multi-ethnic society!

The ferry at Helsingor to take me across the Sund to Helsingborg is just by the train station. The Scandinavians have a good grasp of integrated public transport systems! It´s getting yet colder by the minute, but I step out on the deck to catch the great view over Helsingor castle overlooking the sea – you know, Hamlet´s Elsinore… but I refrain from asking rhetorical questions at this point…

My Man in Sweden meets me at the ferry terminal – a quick meeting at the office then over to the local Scandic hotel where we have dinner. In Scandinavia, fish is a must and I duly order _rökt lax_ (smoked salmon on taost with horseradish cream and dill) and _rödtunga_ (butter-fried lemon sole). Great stuff – I can´t wait to try out the shrimp sandwich and _Gravadlax_ tomorrow!

Scandinavia

This week, a tour of Denmark and Sweden. I´m off to visit a packaging show in Göteborg, and taking in a few Danish customers on the way. Direct flight Venice-Copenhagen, courtesy of Maersk air. Typical Danish cuisine is served on board: I have a choice of a slice of pizza or lamb kebabs, with a chocolate muffin to follow. Doh! But as if to make up for it, I am given an excellent fruity Australian Chardonnay-Semillon!

All of USA in a post

Sorry for the lack of news in this USA trip, but there hasn’t actually been much to write home about!!

A lot of jetting around back and forth: Chicago – Minneapolis – Detroit, back to Chicago, then over to Newark, NJ, and finally home via Frankfurt. As you can imagine, much of the time was spent in the air, at airports, or getting to and from airports… In-flight “service” in the US is non existent, consisting at best of a bag of peanuts and a drink, even in so-called “First” class on UA or NW. So the majority of the Americans carry on board the offerings of the airport food counters: “Cinnabons”, garlic pretzels, Chicago pizzas, Big Macs to take away. You can imagine the mix of smells in a departing aircraft!!

The *few* highlights of the trip include:

* general chaos at airports due to “security”, with passengers milling back and forth, not knowing which check point to go through. There is a new organization – the TSA – that apparently has been given authority to *break open* your suitcase locks if it so desires. (I am in dispute with UA about this…)

* the *excellent* beer to be had in Minneapolis – a few glasses of Summit Pale Ale (served cold, naturally) helps to take your mind off the ferocious Minnesota winters, particularly if downed together with a Walleye sandwich (fried fish from the many Minnesota lakes).

* lunch in a private club on top of a Detroit skyscraper, to which a kind customer invited us. A great shrimp salad, pity that it was pouring with rain so there was no view…

* Good dinner at the “Chicago Chop House”:http://www.chicagochophouse.com/, an institution among Chicago steak houses. Lively, crowded ambiance, a tender 24 oz. New York strip steak, a great Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – Stelzner Vineyards 2000. Expense accounts only. Hey, but a steak is a hunk of meat on the grill, can be done at home too…

For the rest of the time, it was mostly cheeseburgers on the fly!

USA

Off for a week to the USA. Usual yearly trip to the cleaning industry convention, that is held this year in Chicago. Alas, no opportunity this time to visit sights as the Grand Canyon!

My trip today takes with a short skip Venice – Munich, a rather longer hop across the Big Pond to Chicago, then a jump to Minneapolis for a some customer visits before hitting the Windy City again. Will be jetting around most of the week.

Just now, comfortably ensconsced in an Air Dolomiti ATR-72 with a grand view of the snow-covered Zugspitze on the right. Wunderbar!

Istanbul arrival

This week I’m off to Turkey! A regular occasion for me, and always a pleasure as the Turks are a friendly and hospitable people and their cuisine, in the immortal words of the Michelin guide, “vaut un voyage”! This is another distributor support trip, to talk shop with our Man in Turkey and a few customer visits to show the flag.

Usual early morning start from home to catch a 7:45 flight from Venice to….Vienna! It may seem a little strange, but it is in fact a convenient connection eastwards, faster and cheaper than travelling with Alitalia via Rome. The Venice-Vienna leg is in a somewhat cramped Dash 7 turboprop, fast changeover to a roomier A320 to Istanbul, but full of screaming babies that don’t let up screaming until we arrive! Thank God the flight is only 2 hours long!

Two long queues to join at Istanbul airport: before you go through the immigration queue you have to first get a “visa” (in reality an visitors entry tax stamp) – cost 10 Euro for Europeans but 100 USD for Americans!! I wonder why this disparity??

I am met by my Man in Turkey in the arrivals hall and he takes me straight to the Polat hotel near the airport – about 17 km out of Istanbul centre, but comfortable and convenient for his offices. With a cheery goodbye he leaves me until the evening. What can I do but relax by the Olympic poolside for the rest of the afternoon? Every working day should be like this!