As I did for the trip to Thailand (part 1 and part 2), I organized this trip so I could go to visit Isabel before and after the trip. This time, instead of sleeping in Alcalá de Henares, we booked a room in a very cool hotel in Madrid called Dormirdcine. The reason why this hotel is so cool is because the rooms are decorated with movie themes. That night we slept in James Bond’s room: “For a night of action and glamour” – just to clarify, this text was written on the door – you can see it in the photo album!
That day we planned to go to Tommy Mel’s, the same restaurant we went the night we met, on 11th Juan Bravo Street, but it was closed (no longer there). It was late and there was no time to go to Madrid city center, so we ended up at the VIPS restaurant at Velázquez Street where she ate a gluten-free chicken sandwich and I ate a kind of gluten-free pizza that was cold… truth is that we didn’t eat very well that night… but hey, when it’s late and you’re hungry, anything seems like a delicacy, right? We ate it fast and went back to the hotel.
The next day things changed since breakfast: pastries from La Celiacoteca! There are things that cannot change, and this is one of them. For this reason we call them traditions, right? This time we ate chocolate horns… awesome! As soon as you bite them you notice how the chocolate covering the dough breaks and… after biting the dough you notice the melted chocolate inside… woaaaah!!
After laying down a bit to settle this amazing breakfast, we went for a walk along Calle Serrano, until lunchtime. That day we decided to go to Foster’s Hollywood on Calle Genova 6. Not all Foster’s have gluten menu, so I recommend you to find what are prepared for gluten free on their website. In Torrejón de Ardoz there is another one. We usually go there when we sleep in Alcalá de Henares (another of our gastronomic traditions).
Following another of our traditions, we ordered the Bacon & Cheese Fries to share and she ordered Foster’s Chicken Pops and I ordered the National Star Ribs. So much food! But really worth eating it all. While waiting for the bill we ordered a “re-fill” of our drink. Then we went for a walk to Calle Fuencarral until Gran Vía, where we end up in La Casa del Libro (a book shop) until dinner time. That night we repeated at La Concha’s Tavern at Cava Baja 7, where they have a very complete gluten-free tapas menu!
The day after I had to take the flight at 10.30pm, so we decided to sleep till check-out time and went to Alcalá to leave my car and spend the rest of the day around the old town. We only had one more tradition left: the Mas que bocados sin gluten of the Juan Carlos I Avenue of La Garena. We love going to this place! That day we ordered some broken eggs with chistorra and a gluten-free chocolate cake (called Toblerone’s pie).
She dropped me at the airport at 7:00pm and, when I was at the check-in desk, the problems with Fly Emirates started (first and, if possible, last time I fly with them). When I was at the check-in counter, I asked them to confirm that they would have a gluten free menu during the two flights (Madrid – Dubai and Dubai – Johannesburg) and to confirm that they had correctly received the notification for all other allergies (fish and fruit). I was told that they only had registered a gluten free menu… and that I should go to the customer service desk to see how to fix it.
At the Customer Service Desk, they checked my reservation and realized that that the agency that had booked the flights – the same one that booked me the flights from Athens and Manchester – wrote it in my customer profile, but due to a program error, it didn’t arrive to the catering department. Although the gluten free menu was confirmed, they couldn’t assure that they would have something to eat for me during the flights to Joburg, this means that I could stay the 8 hours flight from Madrid to Dubai, 3 hours of stopover (on early morning) and 8 hours and 15min flight from Dubai to Johannesburg without eating… Perfect!
It was two hours before the take off and there was no way to fix it, but they asked me again all the information to the details of my special diet to into my customer profile and see if they could fix it for the second flight. For the return flights, 5 days later, everything would be solved.
Although Isabel had brought me a whole box of gluten free pastries from La Celiacoteca, taking into account the food landscape I had in the next 19h, I preferred to keep them and, once I had passed security control, I went straight to McDonalds for dinner. I ordered a big size gluten free menu and headed to the international flight terminal. To not have food during the first flight would not be a big issue because it was a night flight and I would sleep most of the time. As you can see in the photo above, this is the inflight gluten-free menu: chicken with rice and vegetables; A kick bean salad with tomatoe; Kiwi and apple (to which I am allergic); A slice of bread with butter and a glass of water. Although I was not hungry, I ate everything that wouldn’t kill me just in case I could not eat anything on the second flight.
Three hours may seem like a fairly long stopover, time passed by really quickly. I lost almost two hours in the passport control and it took another 30 minutes to reach the boarding gate. I took advantage of the remaining time to take breakfast: the gluten free pastries Isabel brought me for the trip. On the second flight become really worse! After a couple of hours of take-off, the stewardess brought me another tray similar to the one I had on the previous flight, but this time it was hake. Hake is the fish that gives me more allergy. Just to illustrate what I mean with “very allergic”, below you will find a picture of the last allergy tests they did to me, in June 2016.
I didn’t know what that food was so I opened it. As they heated it up just before bringing it to me, when I opened the lid, all the steam came out getting in contact with my eyes. Then I started to feel the allergy and I called the stewardess to ask her to take that tray immediately and bring me a washcloth to wash my hands since my fingers got wet with the steam that came out of the little tray. If I would have touched my face without washing my hands the allergy would become worse. The stewardess offered to bring me an antihistamine but I told her not to worry because I already had mine.
Once they had distributed the food to the rest of the passengers, the Inflight Service Manager came to talk with me. I explained what happened with the reservation and he came back with a tablet to check my profile. To my surprise there was nothing written! But if we had refilled it again hours ago at the Fly Emirates Customer Service Desk… how was that possible?
Again I updated with him my customer profile… third time already!
Once I had refilled my profile (AGAIN!), and with the promise that he would pass a report so that on the return flights everyone would be informed, that he went to look for something to eat for me. He brought me the second meal they would give us. This time a “sandwich” of rice bread, a leaf of lettuce and a slice of smoked chicken that looked like fish… I ate it along with a couple of gluten free pastries and I slept a little more. I arrived in Johannesburg after a few hours, exhausted after 19:00 traveling and very hungry… while waiting for my South African colleague, I ate some more pastries. He arrived 40 minutes later and it took us another hour to get to the hotel. Finally!
Upon arriving at the hotel, I settled in the apartment I rented at The Michelangelo Towers in Sandton, one of the safe areas of Johannesburg, I took a really long shower and, once refreshed and with clean clothes on, I went down to Nelson Mandela Square to find a good restaurant. It was time for the reward! After 19h traveling and with such bad experience with Fly Emirates I truly deserved a good piece of meat! In addition, I was eager to try that delicious meat that makes famous South African food restaurants, and also the famous GAME MEAT (meat of antelope, gazelle, zebra, crocodile, ostrich, biltong of antelope, Eland etc.).
I couldn’t find any gluten-free restaurant in the apps I know, so finding one was a already an adventure. After reviewing the menus in the entrance of each restaurant, I decided to go for TURMPS, a meat restaurant. I arrived at a more or less Spanish time, so they no longer had “GAME OF THE DAY”, so… the decision was very easy! I would order a Ribeye of 550 grams with side rice and a good glass of wine.
Although I ordered meat and rice, since I did not know how they prepared the meat or the risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen, I showed the gluten-free travel card to the waiter. I had it in Afrikaans and English just in case. The next days I had to go to do some visits outside the security of Sandton and, although in theory everyone speaks English, it never hurts to have it in other local languages.
In the second part of this trip, I will explain to you why I speak of Sandton’s “security.”
P.S.: Please keep in mind that in this blog I share my trips, anecdotes and experiences about gluten free travel around the world. It is possible that, in any of my trips, I go to some restaurant not trained by the associations where the risk of being contaminated with gluten exists. Thank you very much!