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Travel: 2014 Year in Review

2014 was a good year for me, not only in travel but in general. Let’s review my travels over the past twelve months, shall we?

By the Numbers: (2014 / 2013)

Total Miles Flown: 53,322 / 73,825
Total Segments Flown: 37 / 44
Cabin Segment Breakdown (F/B/C): 0/5/32 | 7/4/33
Total Airlines Flown (new airlines bolded): 4 (United, Air Canada, Brussels, Lufthansa) / 7
Total Hotel Nights: 56 / 71
Total Hotel Stays: 32 / 31
Total Airlines Miles Redeemed: 37,500 / 105,000
Total Hotel Points Redeemed: 134,000 / 13,400
Countries Visited (new Countries bolded): 6+1 (Sweden, Canada, Belgium, Spain, France, Switzerland + Germany) / 8+1
Longest Single Segment: MUC-ORD @ 4,535 / ORD-PVG @ 7,056
Shortest Single Segment: YUL-YQB @ 145 (I redeemed miles for this flight too)
Northernmost Airport: ARN (Stockholm) / LHR (Heathrow)
Southernmost Airport: MCO (Orlando) / SGN (Ho Chi Minh City)
The most frequent non-home airport I visited was YYZ (Toronto). I didn’t do a lot of repeat business outside of ORD. Last year BNA (Nashville) and LAX were on my frequent list – I only visited each of those once this year.

I flew enough miles this year to circumnavigate the Earth only twice – or enough miles to get a quarter of the way to the moon.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

How did your 2014 treat you? Did you meet all of your travel goals? What are you planning for 2015?

My Search for Spain

The first foreign country I visited was Spain.  I was 17, it was spring break of my Junior year in High School.  We scrimped and saved for 18 months but we managed to scrape together the extra $1,500 (plus $600 for lunches, souvenirs and other miscellaneous expenses) for the 10 day trip.  We landed in Madrid and I was energized.  I had been studying Spanish in High School for two and a half years and I wanted to practice and I mean really practice. I wanted to experience all the things my Castilian trained teacher had told us about the language, the culture and the food.

Granted this trip was put on by a group who specialized in bringing American high school students to Europe.  We weren’t going to be eating at Michelin Starred Restaurants, but we also wouldn’t be eating at American Fast Food.  Most of us would have our first experiences with true Spanish Flan, Paella and honestly, it was my first time ever eating lamb.  Looking back on the places we ate now, with a more refined palate, I’m sure they were places I wouldn’t be caught dead visiting now, but at the time this new food really rocked my world – opened my mind to other cultures – and cemented my previous thoughts that canned green beans are awful and taste a lot like canned peas and corn (with a twinge of tin and chemicals).  Vive La Fresh Food!

Where I grew up we didn’t have any Spanish restaurants.  Although if you ask many of the people in the area they would disagree.  They would suggest the guacamole at El Primo or the Enchiladas at Mazatlán – they also have a great Margarita special on Thursdays.  Where do I even begin…

When visiting Spain today, I love hitting the little tapas places that are on every street.  A bite here with a beer, a glass of wine and a couple tastes there.  Graze for a few hours while walking down the street.  Who can beat it?

I know I won’t be able to fully replicate that experience back home in Chicago, but I think I should be able to find a single good Tapas place where some friends and I can drop anchor for a few hours, slowly ordering items off the menu – ending up with way more food than we ever would have ordered (if we did it in one single order versus staggered throughout the whole dining experience).  We had a great place on Clark and Carmen in the Andersonville neighborhood.


Tapas Las Ramblas sat on the corner in a quiet part of the Andersonville / Uptown Border.  A few blocks to the north was the great dining scene central to Andersonville and a few blocks to the east was the live music areas of Uptown, housing the Uptown Theater, the Aragon Ballroom, the Vic and the Green Mill.  When Mike and I first started dating this place was arguable about half way between our respective condos, so we would meet up for a long leisurely dinner, coupled with a pitcher or two of sangria and call it a win.


When eating here, you wouldn’t get lost in the food or the atmosphere and think you were in Spain, but the food was very tasty and it was reasonably priced.  The menu didn’t have guacamole either – but it did have a great bacon wrapped dates, baked goat cheese and cheese stuff pequillo peppers.  We never made it out of there spending less than $100 either.

Unfortunately our favorite little tapas place closed in February 2013 – which is even more sad because we sold our separate condos in August 2013 and moved just a 8 minute walk from what use to be Tapas Las Ramblas.

Ever since I found out Tapas Las Ramblas closed, I’ve been on a mission to find a replacement tapas joint.  Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Casual neighborhood restaurant for a reasonably priced weeknight meal
  • Great Bacon Wrapped Dates and Baked Goat Cheese
  • Public Transportation Adjacent – I don’t want to be required to take a taxi or drive, but I also don’t want it to be two trains and a bus adjacent either.
  • Reasonably priced – I don’t want to spend $75/person on a Tuesday night

My mission this fall/winter is to find such a place.  This mission will not be easy and I’m sure it will be filled with disappointment, but with great disappointment comes great stories and hopefully an interesting read.

Please, help me on my journey to find the best Tapas restaurant in Chicago – send me your ideas (both suggestions on places to visit was well as places to stay clear of).

Help me Travel: Madrid, Seville and Jerez

It has been a couple weeks since I’ve gotten some use out of my passport, hasn’t it?  We’ve decided instead of taking a big two week trip in March this year (like we did in 2011 and 2013 — we skipped 2012 because of this) we’re taking just a week and visiting Spain.  We’re taking some time to revisit Madrid, take some day trips from Madrid, spending a couple days in Seville and Jerez.

It’s been nearly 17 years since I’ve been in Madrid (good god, that’s depressing).  We’ve got out hotels booked throughout the trip, but I need your help. As I always ask, where should we eat? What tourist attractions should we visit – and which ones have you visited, but recommend staying away from?  We’re looking for some fine dining places, casual eateries and while in Jerez we want to experience the Sherry Culture – so we need ideas on locales, tours, shops, everything.

Paella – photo from http://caminoways.com

I wasn’t a fan of port until we visited Oporto Portugal, now I absolutely love it.  I’m not a big fan of Sherry right now, but am confident, once I learn more about it, experience it in it’s native land, I’ll really dig it too.

So send me your recommendations.  I’m a couple trip reports behind now, but I’m working to catch up.  Give me suggestions and I’ll write about as many as I can.  And yes, Mexico City, Stockholm and Quebec trip reports are in the queue…

In addition to Spain, we’ll have a 6 hour layover in Brussels, in which we’ll be escaping the airport so I can practice my French — so I’ll need your best suggestions for these great Spanish Cities as well as Brussels. What’s your favorite stop in each of these Cities?