A Travellerspoint blog

sugar sachets

Very few of us return from a trip without some kind of souvenir; we all like momentos. Me? I collect sugar sachets. My craving began back in 2006. We were touring Spain in a campervan. I was doing the driving and insisted that every so often we had to have a coffee stop. One way of integrating with the locals and practicing our Spanish, right?

I remember my first sachet. It was a blue outline of a Victorian lady sheltering beneath her parasol. I thought it far too pretty to be on the back of a sugar packet. Somehow it found its way into my backpack. I’d become addicted. I wanted to see how many different sachets I could collect.

As I write, my hand delves haphazardly into a bowl containing some hundred and six sugar sachets; the memories came flooding back. The first one I pull out boasts of the ‘Cafe Viena’ in Aviles, an industrial city that boasts a medieval heart and the church where the first governor of the US state of Florida is buried.

The second tells of a cafe we visited in the small Asturian town of Navelgas where they pan for gold. The world gold panning championships were held there in 2008. If it hadn’t been for a much needed coffee stop, I’d not have known this rural, farming communities claim to fame.

Somewhere along the road we took coffee in the ‘Bar Berlin’ in Salas with castle surrounded by a mountainous wilderness usually bypassed by tourists on their way to Galicia.

The sachet with a picture of a sailing boat reminds me of when we visited the bar of the Hotel Pena Mar is Castrapol, a picturesque fishing village on the shore of the Ria de Ribadeo that forms the border of Galicia. The bar is suggestive of a museum portraying articles from traditional Galician houses in bygone days.

What memories....

I wondered about the history of this little insignificant package that we take for granted. The first small packet of sugar can be traced back to Partridge’s Dining Rooms in Philadelphia, USA. Mr. Partridge started producing the packets in 1862 although it wasn’t until New Yorker Benjamin Eisenstadt started mass producing them in 1945 that they came into popular use. He and his wife ran a diner in Brooklyn and wanted a way to serve single teaspoon portions of sugar. Sadly, Mr. Eisenstadt didn’t paten his sachets and his idea was stolen by a firm he approached. In the 1950s he did become successful by producing packets of the low calorie sweetener ‘Sweet ‘n Low’.

The popularity of sugar sachets is phenomenal. They can be found anywhere from the greasiest of roadside diners to the poshest of hotels the world over.

The sugar sachet has found itself involved in all kinds of immoral acclivities. Some have made the headlines. Qantas sacked one of its stewards for stealing them. Prisoners have been known to use them as trading chips for other commodities as well as making moonshine. An Australian was spotted in a cafe flossing his teeth with the edge of a sugar sachet before placing it back in the receptacle.

Sachet trivia includes the little known fact that a Boeing 747 flying from Melbourne to Los Angeles will stock up with 950 sugar packets. An employee of the New Zealand firm Health-Pak claims he made in excess of 9.6 million sugar sachets in over 22 years. In the film ‘I Am Sam’, Sean Penn’s character is seen meticulously organising sachets according to brand at the Starbucks where he works. In 2001, the ANZ bank mailed a light hearted booklet to its customers entitled ‘101 Better Ways to Save’. Number 90 suggests taking sugar sachets from fast food restaurants (while number 45 suggests building a bungalow for your mother in law and upping the rent each month). In the UK you’re legally entitled to take unused sachets from your hotel room or when placed on your saucer accompanying your cup of coffee in a cafe.

Because of the diverse appearance of these packets, with their various pictures, shapes and sizes, they’ve become quite collectable. Sucrology is now an identified hobby. In the UK alone there are over 250 recognised sucrologists.

A sketch in the Times newspaper reported that sucrologists may be responsible for two percent of the worlds gross national product being tied up in emergency reserves of sugar sachets. If such supplies were convertible to cash, the world would be rich enough to provide clean water to everyone in Africa.

The sugar sachet is more than just a table dressing; it has a remarkable array of uses. During intense conversation, idle fingers often subconsciously pick up empty sachets, folding them into weird and wonderful sculptures. This form of origami is often only appreciated once you leave the table. Wobbly tables can be made stable by stuffing full sachets under the offending shorter leg. Arguing over the off side rule? Wondering if the fly-half can make it through the hooker? Sugar sachets can aid the working out of complex sporting formations by substituting players on the table-top field of play, settling the intricate of disputes.

Each sucrologist has their own way of displaying their collection. The most common way is in a photo album with plastic sleeves. Haven’t we all thought to ourselves “Oh no” when an album is magically produced around, until then, an enjoyable dinner party. Let’s be honest, who wants to spend an evening politely admiring someone’s holiday snaps of Blackpool pleasure beach or some obscure collection that seemingly serves no purpose?

My sugar sachets are tossed, without thought or order, into a fruit bowl sitting in the middle of my dining room table. Without fail, a dinner guest on their third glass of la rioja can be relied upon to delve their free hand into the bowl, asking “Now, what have we here?” Having asked, they can hardly refuse to listen to my explanation; can they? The evening ends some bottles later, each guest inspired to relate a tale of when they were in a cafe somewhere in down town Marrakech..........

Writing is such thirsty work; there’s a cafe in Longreo I’ve not been to. It’ll take me three hours to get there. Ok, that means a cuppa on the way there and another on the way back. Maybe I’ll have a hundred by Friday.........

Posted by SpanishRos 02:26 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

coffee culture

“Let’s have a day out,” I say to Paul. We’d been lamenting that our travelling days were on hold. Finances dictate.

“Where to?” he asks.

“We’ve got petrol in the car and a map. Let’s just go,” I reply. He nods in agreement.

We skipped breakfast. Bars are ten a penny here. We’d get something along the way. The coffee culture is a way of life in Spain that I’ve become addicted to. What’s good for the locals is good for me.

“We’re on the road again,” we sang tunelessly somewhere along the N634.

La Espina loomed ahead of us. None of the guide books I’ve read give it even a cursory mention. We stop. It’s sunny but chilly. The sky is blue and its four degrees. The Cafe Bar Cavadonga is open for business. Our stomachs cry to be filled. We each have a large coffee and a ham roll. Sitting by the window gives us a panoramic view of the main street. It’s as quiet as a cemetery. Just a couple of black clad widows’ step irregularly along the street towards the grocers. It’s probably the only time in the week they get to gossip about times gone by. I’d love to listen but it’d be irreverent. Franco’s time was brutal but personal. It doesn’t seem right to listen. A young lad sweeps the road. He’s wearing headphones that take him to a world he’ll never visit nor understand if he did. He wants no other world than La Espina and desires no other future.

The bar is empty but it won’t be long before it’s filled with life. The Spanish are content to conduct both their business and social life or in one of the ubiquitous bars where the young in their universal uniform of denim jeans and baggy sweaters mingle confidently with elderly gentlemen escorting impeccably dressed women of all ages.

What is so special about Spanish coffee? Seemingly, the country has been involved with coffee for many centuries. Spanish ships carried coffee plants and seeds to many remote areas of the world where coffee was not native but soon became coffee growing hubs. Descendants of Spanish conquistadors settled in South America where they created large coffee planting plantations. Many came back to their homeland with unimaginable wealth. Look out for the
large four and five storey houses that dominate villages. These are the reminder of those who emigrated to southern America and made their fortunes in such trades as coffee production before returning to Spain, flaunting their wealth. These are the Indianos.

Coffee originally came to Spain with Turkish immigrants. Hardly any is grown in Spain but they produced a method for roasting that produces very dark, almost black oily beans that make very strong coffee. Most coffee served in Spain comes from Angola and Mozambique.

Your coffee can be taken many ways. Take it black, ‘cafe solo’, in a small cup; just enough for two or three mouthfuls. A cortado is strong with a drop of milk. Have a sweet tooth? Try a ‘cafe bombon’; a small glass containing condensed milk with coffee solo poured in and mixed. Cafe carajillo is famous the world over as ‘Spanish coffee’; coffee with a splash alcohol, traditionally brandy. The brandy is lit first so the alcohol burns off then the coffee (solo) is added. I‘ve never seen it served that way – yet. In the villages that are my normal haunt, the alcohol is just poured in as an afterthought. Rum and whisky are also popular additions. ‘Sombre’ or ‘manchado’ are mostly milk with a few drops of coffee.
‘Cafe con hielo’ is mostly drank in summer. A normal cup of cafe con leche is served alongside a glass of water heaped with ice over which the coffee is poured. For me? I’ll just settle for a cafe con leche. Make it large!

We follow the road, seeing Asturias at its glorious best. Travelling can be such thirsty work. Two hours worth of kilometres later it’s time for another coffee. A small red sign attached to the side of a building indicates a bar. Pulling off the road we’re not sure if it’s open. The stonework is crumbling and the paintwork peels. The sign bearing the name Bar Las Vinas sways gently in the breeze. Peering in the window we see a light on, albeit a sickly yellow bulb hanging tentatively from the ceiling. We try the door. It opens. We are surprised to find one of the cleanest bars we’ve visited. An aged gent is perched on a stool puffing a Ducados ciggie whose smoke forms a pea souper 19th century London would have been proud of. The Ducados hangs on his sole urine coloured tooth as he sips his cognac. His leathery, lined face suggests the ‘castro’! He smiles. “Buenos dias,” he says. We feel at home.

A young man around thirty appears. “Digame,” he says. “Dos cafes con leche grandes,” I reply. He kicks his ancient but spotless coffee machine into action. The contraption snorts and whinges. Within seconds we are served with one of the best cups of coffee we’ve had in Spain. Behind the bar hangs a historic collection of key rings; many rusting with age like the chap sipping the cognac that’ll last all day. A darts board hangis pathetically in the corner. Who plays in a village like this? We decide to make full use of the facilities whilst there. The barman grabs a huge key that wouldn’t look out of place at the Tower and unlocks the door that is secreted in a darkened corner. Years of scrubbing has failed to keep the porcelain virgin white. Pee cream stains blend with the overhead ochre light. The pungent smell of bleach serves to remind users that cleanliness is an age old pride even in the most rustic communities. Suitably refreshed we bid farewell and follow the road to wherever it ends and the many coffee stops along the way..

Posted by SpanishRos 02:24 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Is this the way to -------

Days out can lead you in many different directions. Mine always start with looking at the map but half an hour later, the map goes out the window. A roundabout on the map shows four exits but in reality it has five; a new bypass has been built! I’ve lost count of the times I’ve circled a roundabout looking for a particular road number before realising it’s been converted to a motorway and the number changed! I don’t rely on my maps anymore. I just follow my nose.

The E70 A8 autipista travels across the top of Spain and I’ve travelled it on many occasions. The direction signs boast a myriad of place names, many have remained just that.

“Let’s go to Salinas,” I suggested to Paul one dull and overcast Saturday morning. He nodded in agreement.

There was half a tank of petrol in the car; enough to get our motor running out upon the highway.

“Where do you fancy having coffee?” I ask. Paul knows I’m addicted to coffee breaks and trying new bars.

“What about the ERG service station?” he asks. Yep, I think, it sounds good. They serve a good coffee.

Three bikers filling their mean machines at the pumps are the only sign of life. Unusual. Chairs are stacked on the tables in the dining room but then it’s not quite lunch time. Hang on, the bar is empty. Cerrado! Yep, it’s closed. Decanso; seemingly Saturdays are their rest day. Surely that’s their busiest day? Don’t people travel at the weekends? Who knows?

Muron de Nalon is three kilometres further on.

“We’ll go there,” Paul says. This time I nod.

It’s a small, sleepy, typically Spanish town easily bypassed. You’d need a reason to visit; my kind of town, devoid of tourism. Locals living their day to day lives.... yep, my kinda town. Tucked away to one side are some ruins. A plinth tells it’s the remains of a 15th century prison. The solid wooden gates & the time ravaged stone towers tell a life sentence there was certainly that. Saturday is market day. Just a few stalls selling a variety of basics. Why look any further? The locals are having a field day looking for that bargain whilst having the weekly gossip. Life in its simplicity is all anyone can ask. I spy a flower stall that would put any garden centre to shame. It’s a pity we’re on a day out or I could have mortgaged the house. Paul’s lucky day! Time for coffee and we only have to go to the edge of the square to find a bar. Frequented by a host of locals we know it has to be good. We’re not disappointed. ERGs loss.

Time to get on the road again. Following the new stretch of autopista, we decide that the sign for Salinas must be on the old road. Our map doesn’t show this new stretch of road. We’d already figured it wouldn’t.

“We’ll take the next exit and see what happens,” I say, positively. After all, we’re on an adventure.

We meander along a pretty stretch of road Paul can’t find on the map. Proves my point. The pueblos en route have thus kept their privacy. They’ll still retain their secret; we’ll not be able to find them again. Spanish Brigadoons!

“Salinas,” I cry and Paul jumps. A small sign indicates a turn off & we follow. Hallelujah. We follow the signs to the city centre. It’s a concrete maze; nothing like I’d imagined. What had I imagined? A good question but this wasn’t it. It’s a strange thing having to answer a question you simply can’t. But then that’s life; it’s a weird thing.

Suddenly I felt claustrophobic and I wanted to scream. A sign appeared from nowhere, it seemed. La Playa. Sounded good. A walk on the beach will do me good. Famous last words. The beach area is as big as my hand and enclosed by concrete walls higher than me. No, a visit to the beach won’t do me any good. I can hear Ant and Dec gabbing. So this isn’t a forested jungle but get me out of here.

Another roundabout. Another exit that isn’t on the map. Glorietta is the Spanish for roundabout but there was nothing glorious about this one. We found ourselves in the middle of a gigantean industrial estate. All roads seemed to lead to Seat Motors. En route we passed a myriad of factories that specialised in furniture, car parts, bathroom installation and a thousand other industrial processes. A railway ran alongside the warehouses. Sealed wagons by the dozen promoted local firms. This wasn’t what we had come to see. BUT (and there is always a but) it told us something of the area. It’s prosperous and many local men can be assured of employment.

“There’s a main road ahead,” Paul says; he is on the ball!

“OK. Left of right?” Pause for thought.

“Right,” he says positively.

Good choice. We follow the railway line. Trucks and containers sit idly, waiting to be filled or unloaded. Their oxidation tells of their age and the elements.

“Phew,” I sigh as we finally leave the world of industry behind.

Another roundabout. There’s a sign indicating the road to the airport. Goody. I know my way home from the airport. Wouldn’t ya know it? I miss the turning. I blame it on the bewildering lane layout. I’m now driving towards Luanco. Paul tells me we can turn about. I ask him where and he shrugs his shoulders. Luanco is only a few kilometres away and we’ve not been there. There’s a first time for everything. I head towards Luanco. It’s all new and we like voyages of discovery.

The road is long and winding to pinch a phrase of a long ago hit. It’s pretty and I don’t feel claustrophobic anymore. Attractive houses hint of a moneyed area. We enjoy the ride. Driving, I feel free and easy. The Heartbeat CD takes me back to a bygone age. I sing along.

Luanco approaches. The road system becomes more complicated. Traffic lights dictate. I decide, momentarily, to follow the cars in front. Minutes later, I break free and follow my nose. My snout leads us to the beach. It’s attractive and clean. Inviting. Parking is easy. Hunger invades. A cafe beckons. Its wares are more suited to the sweet tooth. I fancy something more savoury. We’ve been sitting a long while so decide to walk towards the town centre. Initially the town seems too quiet and we decide it won’t come alive until July when the Spanish holiday season begins. With the snap of the fingers, the town opens up. There is life in Luanco. We bypass the first couple of bars. Time has taught me to follow my gut.

“We’ll go in here,” I tell Paul, pointing. The bar looks modern. Black tiles and white furniture have a character of their own under limited lightening.

“It’s nice,” I say, wondering what nice really meant. It’s just a word that is always used when one isn’t sure. We liked it; we felt comfy there. It was welcoming. Shiny black tiles with contrasting white furniture. The coffee was good and the croissant filling; a meal in itself. Suitably refreshed we walked back through the town, along the beach to where we’d parked the car.

Onwards; we’d planned on visiting El Corte Inglis. Of course we knew how to get there even going via Luanco! Easy. No way! Several wrong turns took us into the old part of Aviles.

“Keep the railway to your right,” Paul said, knowingly. I was glad someone knew. An Alsa bus loomed behind us.

“He is going to the bus station, “Paul said; the fountain of all knowledge. We knew how to get there from the bus station. Right on cue the bus station loomed and we made a left turn. Straight the way up; no problem. The direction signs to the department store confirmed we were going in the right direction. It wasn’t the way we knew, though!! We drove the back streets, believing we were lost but still the signs led us.

“I know where we are,” I screeched in unison with Paul as we negotiated a five exit roundabout and into the car park of El Corte Inglis. We looked and dreamt. I bought my favourite perfume and was pleased. The same perfume as used by Cyntha Payne. I guess that says a lot about me! Rather share the same fragrance with her than a lot of people for sure.

Homeward bound. James, don’t spare the horses. I’ve never known who James is or what his connection with horses was. Interesting. One day, I’ll find the answer......

Posted by SpanishRos 07:09 Comments (0)

Have you seen Eddie lately?

To pass the time on long bus or coach journeys I´d look for Eddie......

I’d count the white, green, yellow and red livered lorries. Each trip I’d try and outnumber the last. It wasn’t until I saw an interview on television whereby musician Jools Holland admitted to watching for them too that I came out of the closet! He told the interviewer that spotting these ubiquitous lorries whilst on the road relieved the boredom of long distance journeys between gigs. If this pastime was good enough for Jools then it was good enough for me.

Jools could have the choice of any past time to while away the hours. I was sure there was more to these lorries than just their moniker. Surely? In time I discovered there were more of us in the closet than could be imagined. I even learned Eddie had a fan club; its members could tour the depot or take a ride in one of their many lorries.

So what were the origins of this Eddie who fascinated us long distance travellers? The business was started by ‘Steady’ Eddie Stobart in the 1950s as an agricultural business in Cumbria. Eddie had four children; the third was Edward (born in 1954). By the 1970s the business consisted of three components – fertiliser, transport and the farm shop. These parts were eventually split up with son, Edward, taking over haulage keeping the name Eddie Stobart Ltd.

Stobart has a long tradition of naming its vehicles with female names. The first four that Eddie Stobart owned were named after model Twiggy and singers Suzi (Quatro). Tammy (Wynette) and Dolly (Parton). Names are now often chosen with connections to drivers or long standing employees. Members of the Eddie Stobart fan club can also request a truck name but currently there is a several year waiting list!

In 1976 Edward had a fleet of eight lorries. A Stobart dedicated video once boasted his fleet went on to boast over a thousand vehicles. Working hard, he never declined an order. He was always characterized by keeping his vehicles immaculately cleaned. I have heard it said that after he’d taken a lorry out on a job on Christmas Eve he returned to the depot around midnight. He didn’t leave until the early hours of Christmas Day when the lorry was spotless.
He never asked his drivers to do what he wasn’t prepared to do himself. He even insisted his drivers wear a uniform. Any driver caught not wearing a tie could be disciplined. His Control Room can even claim to know where each of its lorries are twenty four hours a day.

His hard work paid off. His reputation grew and the orders poured in. Over the years the firm has changed hands on occasions but has retained the Stobart name. The livery has also changed. Although just dropping the yellow, it’s still easily recognisable.

My record count for one trip is around seventy one. My hubby, Paul, tells me that as about fifty of those were in a depot we passed then they don’t count. He isn’t a true spotter. Ask any Stobart enthusiast and he’ll say it doesn’t matter where you see them; you only have to spot them,

What is the attraction with spotting Eddie Stobart’s lorries? Why do people collect stamps? Ask any train or plane spotter why they enjoy their hobby. Ask a dozen people and you’ll get twelve different answers. For me, Eddie has become something of a family. Eddie is a success story; put in the effort and the results are there for the asking. He is an inspiration.

Eddie – keep on trucking!!

Posted by SpanishRos 07:58 Archived in England Comments (0)

old scores, new friends ----


I’m sure many of you know that I’m involved with the Matador Travel Community here on the web. Browsing recent Matador blogs, I came across one written by a guy who’d travelled across America by Amtrak. Wow! It brought back memories of a journey I’d taken way back in 1992.

I’d taken a three week vacation from to visit two friends; one is Los Angeles, the other in Chicago. I’d always had a thing about doing something ‘different’. An advertisement for Amtrak caught my eye. Without ado, I realised that was the way for me. I saw the train would take me via Albuquerque and St. Louis. The route promised views of the mighty Mississippi. I would see more of the American states if I went that way than by plane. Sounded good to me.

“You’re mad,” my friends said, “flying is quicker and cheaper.”

Yep, that’s as maybe. One of my characteristics is that when people try to put me off, it only encourages me to do that very thing. Besides, I didn’t know when I’d ever get to see New Mexico or Missouri again. They weren’t exactly high on my list of ‘to go’ places, but that didn’t mean I didn’t want to see them. My friends hadn’t heard of either Albuquerque or St. Louis, and even if they had, they’d no desire to visit them. Hadn’t they ever heard of Tom Jones’s hit ‘The Young New Mexican Puppeteer’?

I’ve never been a lemming, following the mass to the Costas or some equally Brit drenched beach. If it, seemingly, is just a name on the map then I want to go there. Or at least pass through it.

In 1991 black Rodney King was witnessed by millions around the world as people watched him on their television screens being steadfastly beaten by four white LA policemen. The four law officers were acquitted of charges of aggression the following year. Riots resulted just as I was about to embark on my train journey. Oh my....

During my week with my Californian friend had taken great care that on our days out to avoid the areas of discontent. She delivered me safely to the station to catch the sleeper to Chicago. I’d opted for a sleeping compartment, willing to pay the extra. I’d never been able to sleep on a recliner and wanted to arrive refreshed for my Windy City adventure. I’ve often be renowned for my collection of useless trivia, and one such worthless fact is that Chicago is in fact the sixteenth windiest city in the USA. But I digress..........

Shown to my single cabin, I settled down and enjoyed the scenery as we pulled out of Los Angeles. I’d been given the choice of two sittings for dinner. I chose the first at half past five. No reason.

Suitably refreshed, I wandered along to the dining car. Having ascertained I was alone, I was shown to a vacant seat at a table for four. The three gentlemen already seated were deep in discussion about baseball. Their animated voices were being well lubricated by cans of beer. I sunk into my seat and hoped they’d ignore me and let me eat my dinner in peace and quiet. I was afraid they’d take offence. I was, after all, the same colour as the attackers of one of their brothers. I was embarrassed.

The bow tied, blonde permed, middle aged attendant approached. Pad and pencil at the ready.

“Anything to drink?” she drawled. I shook my head. My throat was to too dry to ask for the glass of wine I’d have loved.

“Reckon the lady would love a beer,” one of my black friends answered for me.

“Beer then?” the peroxide person asked, looking at me whilst ignoring the speaker.

“About right,” another of my coloured comrades confirmed.

“Thanks,” I murmured, smiling at my new friends.

“No problem,” came the reply.

My newly found friends continued to talk animatedly throughout the meal. Baseball their only subject. I’d been apprehensive upon sitting down but half way through my second beer I began to relax. The end of the meal soon came. I decided to forgo the coffee and beat a hasty retreat. I was still in a state of misguided embarrassment.

“Coming to the club car later?” I was asked. I shook my head.

“Bet ya do,” another said, smiling.

“Gotta card school going. You’re welcome to join us,” the third grinned.

I shook my head as I said my thanks. Back in my cabin I couldn’t figure any reason why I shouldn’t go to the club car. If I was honest, I regretted turning down my after dinner coffee. What the heck; I’d go. I did.

By the time I got to the club car, the card school was well under way. I found my way to the bar through the Marlboro initiated smoke and ordered my glass of red wine. Yeah, I know; I was going for coffee. I’d have that after.

“Make it a large one,” I said.

“Told ya you’d come,” a familiar voice called. “Pull up a chair.”

Glass in hand, I did.

“Ever played?”


“Watch and learn.”

Cards dealt, lain and nickels won, whilst laughter crackled as lurid jokes were hurled through the air.

“Heard of Rodney?” a voice whispered.

“Yep. Who hasn’t?” I replied. Not worth lying. The media were full of him.

“A baddun,” came the answer.

This is going to get heavy. I took a heavy swig of red nectar.

“Gooduns and badduns everywhere,” another of my new friends added. I nodded.

Someone bought a round of drinks. Another followed.

I partnered Winston. We lost but it didn’t seem to matter. Losers bought the next round as is the custom. The evening ended in the early hours. I was three friends richer. We promised the next evening Winston and I would have the chance to win back our lost nickels. Leaving, white faces looked on disapproving. Their loss. I was three friends richer.

Posted by SpanishRos 06:39 Archived in USA Comments (0)

(Entries 16 - 20 of 37) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 6 7 8 »