31
Mar
2017

spain: guidebook research 2017

Ever wonder what it’s like to update a travel guidebook? I missed writing about last year’s assignment, but if you’re curious about previous book work, here are links to posts from 2015 & 2014. I’m not much on Facebook, so I decided to spend a few minutes each day while on the road writing this post.

People often ask if I enjoy doing guidebook research & I usually say it’s the best & worst job I’ve ever had. Best because I get to see favorite places in a country I adore, I learn the text inside out as well as contribute my own personal insight. Worst because it’s physically exhausting, often frustrating, & who really wants to see every single hotel, bus station & laundromat recommended? ;-) But because this job comes around only once a year, I always forget any negative aspects by the time a new assignment pops up. Deep down, I must love it because I’ve worked on 14 different editions of 3 books for Rick Steves since 2004 (Spain, Portugal & France). But enough about that… we have a job to do. Let’s roll!

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09 Mar · I love that I can go to work without having to deal with jetlag for the first time ever, but waking at 04:30 to catch a 07:00 flight to Barcelona wasn’t much fun. I might have to rethink that logic for 2018. No matter: it’s March & the city has fewer tourists than normal. In fact, no one was waiting in line when I went to the TI!! I had their undivided attention for a whole 10 minutes… good thing I read ahead & knew exactly what I needed to ask. Two detailed city walks, some restaurants, the cathedral & I had to call it a day. I wish Barcelona was this empty all the time.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Barcelona

10 Mar · Having breakfast with the hotel owners turned out to be more fun than expected, & I learned a great comparison: the Born is the Western Wall in Jerusalem for Catalans. Love it. I also had an unexpected surprise; even though I prepped myself for the worst, the Museu Picasso staff were incredibly nice. It’s great when they understand what I’m doing, & that taking 5 min with me will save them answering the same question hundreds or thousands of times. But the Museo Marès staff shadowing me around was disconcerting… get some damn cameras! Later, Ángel gave me the very best jamón of my life + yummy garnacha from Toledo, I had a fun chat with a gal at Casa Amatller, then saw a beautiful sunset from the top of the Columbus monument. The lesson for today? Some museums energize, some take energy away. Much depends on the layout.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Barcelona

11 Mar · Gaudí day! So much walking, so much work, but in the end it’s great to focus these sights without tons of people around. Park Güell is still a bit obnoxious, but the Sagrada Familia security guard talking to me about his collection of photos while we descended the tower put me in a great mood. Even though I was exhuasted, I knew I had to hit restaurants. Oysters, a red from Canarias (chalky, mineral, refreshing as hell), maybe too much wine but yeah, whatever it takes to get through the evening…

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Barcelona

12 Mar · Back to the Barceloneta. Like so many people, I often forget that Barcelona is a beach town. And then I met Amanda… my co-Spain researcher and good friend!! Woo-hoo! Snobby service from a waiter at Tapas 24 but the absolute best patatas bravas ever. I mean it. Navigating through the Sunday marathon was a bit of a hassle, but hearing an older guy encourage runners by saying “¡¡¡Corre, corre!!! ¡Que viene Franco!” (Run! Run! Franco’s coming!) was priceless. You can’t make this stuff up.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Barcelona

13 Mar · Hotel time. In general a very good reaction from all hoteliers. Well, it is Barcelona & lots of people come here with the book. One hostel receptionist said condescendingly, “muy poca gente viene con tu libro.” Ok, fine, sorry, whatever. I’m just doing my job. Anyway, lots of computer work done after a tasty lunch with Amanda & guide-in-training James, more maps & a hilarious exchange with Margherita of a food tour company. She wanted to talk to Amanda—who almost always updates the Barcelona chapter—& not to me. I’m a nice guy too! I promise! Amanda & I cracked up about that because we all tend to develop special relationships with people listed in the book.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Barcelona

14 Mar · DAY OFF. Right. No way this could be a day off. Had a stimulating but exhausting morning on Montjuïc. The MNAC is so wonderful, but there’s too much to see in one visit. They’re smart to give a two-day ticket. Grilled rabbit at La Flauta rocked my world, along with the barman’s good attitude. Coffee with Amanda overlooking Barcelona was the icing on the cake. I took a 20-minute power nap, but afterwards I realized I’d hit a wall. I found a book Rafa had asked for, and after readng how truly invented the Barri Gòtic is, I texted him: wow, todo tan falso / como la identidad catalana jajajajajajajaja Don’t take me too seriously, people. I said goodbye to Amanda & James & went to bed. Early rise tomorrow at 05:00!

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Barcelona

15 Mar · The bus ride from the Granada airport from to the center of town took almost as long as the flight from Barcelona! Ugh. But at least I had fun catching up with the gals at the Hotel Anacapri before heading out. Two funny things during the walk: the rude local guide who tried to get me to move by surrounding me with his group (I was there first in a huge open plaza, he could have spoken to me but didn’t, so I stood my ground just to irritate him) + the fan-girl experience inside the Capilla Real. That really made my day. Can’t believe how much I got done… I worked until almost midnight. 20 hours straight.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Granada

16 Mar · Little desire to do hotels, but everyone I talked with was nice enough. Always a relief. Met with Gayle & we chatted business + she might even have a new boyfriend after she sat at the wrong table! Then I met with Margarita… always fun, & she gave me & Rafa a wedding gift of books about the Alhambra. Awwwww. As I finished my afternoon Alhambra visit, I could tell something wasn’t right. I’m used to feeling tired on the road, but this was different. Uh-oh. Signs of a fever. Not a great night.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Granada

17 Mar · I felt bad; I also felt I could push through my next stop: Córdoba. But that’s my baby… I wrote the original chapter for Córdoba & I wanted to do it justice. It occurred to me that I could go home, get the rest I needed to recover, then do Córdoba in a gap at the end. The Córdoba hotelier wasn’t happy but hey, I can’t control getting sick. To make the day even more special, I got stuck in the rear corner of the bus from Granada to Antequera, surrounded by squirming kids. Joy. At least I made it home & slept for 11 hours.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Sevilla

18 Mar / 19 Mar · Sleep, type, repeat. Sleep, type, repeat.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research

20 Mar · Feeling much, much better & happy to be on the road again. Ronda is booming with tourists, which isn’t odd but it’s March. Hmmm. Everyone suspects all the Koreans are due to a tv show. Discovering a new viewpoint at the cathedral in Ronda was the highlight of my day… I think it had only been open for one week! A couple of tasty tapas for lunch at Almocábar capped off a productive morning. Still a little wiped out from being sick, I decided to spend the afternoon working on other text in the book (history, practicalities, etc.).

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Ronda

21 Mar · Lots of hotels & monuments to hit today. Fun for me, I think I added some helpful text, & I enjoy Joaquín Peinado every single time I go. My treat for the day turned out to be a new, recommended bar–Taberna El Almacén–with friendly, knowledgable staff & tasty pisto. The manager of a hotel I’d talked to earlier in the day sat down next to me at the bar, so we started a conversation that went on for an hour. For that brief moment, work didn’t seem much like work!

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Ronda

22 Mar · I’ve said it before, but Arcos is like home. I know quite a few people there, we always have a laugh when we see each other, & Mari at the Hotel El Convento is the closest to a Spanish mom I’ll ever get. Since I had the time (a luxury with this job!), I added more info to the town walk. But I also took a few moments to enjoy the dramatic view of the surrounding countryside. It began to rain in the evening, but that didn’t stop me from checking out a Moroccan place… yes, in Arcos. It’s been open for awhile, but I always like to wait & see if it has local success before adding it to the book. Amazing kefta, great wine & nice owner. Score.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Arcos de la Frontera

23 Mar · Off to Jerez, but not as early as I thought. The 10:00 bus never came! Fortunately there aren’t many listings to check there. I had to add two of my favorite sherry producers—Bodegas Tradición & Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla—then a few more stops & I caught the train home. Just in time to coordinate the movers picking up boxes of my stuff in Seattle to be put on a boat to Spain. Oh, the stress of doing things remotely.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Jerez de la Frontera

24 Mar / 25 Mar · DAYS OFF. So good to be home! Enjoyed a little free time, but of course I was super busy with input. Just about finished Barcelona & Granada text on the first day. My second day off was spent typing as well, but I finished all the changes to Arcos & Ronda. Little time to prepare for the final push, but it’s nice to feel in control again. That’s one of the most difficult parts of this job for me: not freaking out when you know you’re behind. It will all get done. Ommmmm.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research

26 Mar · First time updating Sevilla while living here. In my mind, I’ve been thinking about all the changes to make to this chapter for the past several months. And Rafa is the best lunch partner a researcher could ask for. On the odd occasion I have the time to eat a full meal, I rarely want to sit by myself. Tapas for one is no fun either. So spending a little extra money to invite Rafa along definitely made my day. He’s working too, so we were both on a tight tapas schedule :-) I hit the cathedral in the afternoon, & afterwards I met Rafa in Triana to do the book walk. Nice to have his input since he guides in Triana 6 days per week!

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Sevilla

27 Mar · Today was a bit of a wash out. Crappy weather, Macarena museum closed because of Semana Santa preparations, & I thought I was doing a good thing by checking out the Palacio de las Dueñas for the book… but no. Nothing seemed to work out today except lunch with Conce. I have to say, Las Columnas has the best montadito de pringá in Sevilla… we both had to get another one! One lesson I’ve learned over the years is that when things don’t go well, it’s better to change gears altogether instead of insisting in doing one particular thing. Maybe I was just tired too… not a lot accomplished today.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Sevilla

28 Mar · With only one day to finish Sevilla, I did everything I couldn’t do yesterday. My feet were killing me, but yes, I did it all. The list was CRAZY: 9 hotels, Hospital de la Caridad, Archivo de Indias, Los Venerables, Iglesia del Salvador, Palacio de Lebrija, Museo de Bellas Artes, lunch at La Isla & Zelai, the Alcázar, Casa de Pilatos, & I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Oh yeah, pack an overnight bag for Córdoba! Rafa said he heard me snoring from the living room; I don’t doubt it for a minute.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Sevilla

29 Mar · Hello, Córdoba! Sure, I was tired from the previous day’s blitz, but Córdoba is so nice that I didn’t notice how tired I was. I definitely prefer staying by Tendillas & not near the Disney-esque area around the Mezquita-Catedral. And people are so nice… the only surreal moment of the day was at the TI. Last year, a neighborhood association began selling tickets to visit six of Córdoba’s prize-winning patios. But when I went to where the office used to be, it was closed. No sign, nada. Back at the hotel, I got online & found conflicting information so I decided to ask at the TI later that day. The woman who waited on me had a suspicious look on her face as I confirmed the TI’s hours—it’s my job. When I asked her about the patio ticket & told her what I’d already seen/researched, she says, “I think it’s at X address, but confirm it.” Surely my expression said it all… that’s exactly why I’m here, honeyboo, to confirm it with you… since walking by & looking on the internet didn’t do it for me. Madre mía. Fortunately her coworker overheard our exchange & told me where the new office is located. I needed a few glasses of fino after that exchange. Of course, I called Amanda right away & said, “You’ll never believe what just happened… or maybe you will!”

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Córdoba

30 Mar · Another morning of hotels, checked out a couple new ones, bought two books at the Feria del Libro & hopped on the AVE back to Sevilla. I didn’t even have time for a flamenquín before leaving! All the footwork may be done, but there’s only a few days left to finish typing & correct all those maps… barely enough.

Spain, Rick Steves, guidebook research, Córdoba

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I managed to turn everything in on time although I’m always super stressed at the end. At least I didn’t have to ask for an extra day! Of course, I have to send in the budget + hard copies of the maps, wait for editor queries, etc etc etc. Maybe now I can get back to reading all those books sitting in my office :-)

Comments ( 8 )
  • Rich says:

    Great blog post Robert! I can relate to so much of it, as can anyone who’s ever done research. Hope you have some down time planned to rest up, abrazos de Seattle

  • Robert says:

    You know how crazy it is! Not much down time since Semana Santa is approaching quickly, but I hope to rest up before tour season starts. Are you coming to Spain this year? Hope to see you here!

    • Rich says:

      I may be doing my firs SPW in Sept. assisting on a BAS and SPA beforehand. Won’t find out for certain until May, but I’ll keep you posted if and when I’m in Sevilla!

      • Robert says:

        That’s great! A lot of tours in Spain… just let me know when you’re in town & we’ll meet up. If I’m not on the road ;-)

  • Penny says:

    I enjoyed your blog, Robert. Brought back lots of memories. I was on your very first Spain My Way tour in 2013. It was a great tour!!!!

  • Ron says:

    Rick has a good crew and a great enterprise !

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