Nothing makes you feel more American than dragging a heavy carry-on through a European airport. Everyone else moves faster through the corridors with bags half the size.

Such was the case for Michael and me as we maneuvered our way to the gate at Zurich airport. We were fortunate that Swiss Air didn’t make us check bags before we went through security. But we knew getting them on the plane was going to be a challenge.

Sure enough as the gate agent checked us in, I saw her eyeing our bags.

“We’ll have to check your bags. They are too heavy,” she said.

That puzzled me because if they were too heavy in the cabin, how would they work below? Well, once we got on the plane, it made perfect sense. The overhead compartments were barely large enough for four standard-sized backpacks.

It was a small plane with two seats on either side of the aisle. The last time we flew on a tiny plane to Bilbao, we rattled and shook the entire flight. Granted, that was 20 years ago, and this was a newer plane.

The view from my window seat was amazing.

Once we landed, we rented a car and headed to El Ciego in the Rioja region — about 120 miles from Bilbao. It was Sunday, so there wasn’t a lot of traffic. Michael put the two-door convertible coupe in sports mode and “did some driving.” We listened to smooth jazz and enjoyed the scenery as we wound our way up the mountains. Then seemingly out of nowhere, there was a sign about the coming toll road.

It changed the mood of our drive. All either of us had was Swiss francs and American dollars. When we arrived at the toll plaza, we only had to take a ticket. For the next forty-five minutes, we worried about how to pay the toll. We finally stopped at a gas station in hopes of finding an ATM. But unfortunately, there wasn’t one. However, we learned from the attendant that we could use our credit card. The last ten minutes of our ride was much more relaxing.

We arrived at Marques de Riscal — a Frank Gehry designed hotel — around five o’clock. After checking in, we retired to the wine bar. We tried a glass or two of the wineries wine and had an early dinner before calling it a night.

I’m embarrassed to share how early we went to bed. But if we have learned anything, it’s this — travel is always better when you get enough rest.

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