The “Joy” of Booking Travel

We are all set to go to St. George. We spent this week searching airfares, hotels in Las Vegas, AirBnB’s in St. George, and rental cars. It always ends up being more complicated than it should be and there are way too many permutations that can’t be searched at once. Our plan is to fly to Las Vegas on Saturday, stay overnight, then drive to St. George in the morning. We will look around St. George from Sunday to Wednesday and then fly home from Las Vegas on Wednesday evening.

We started on the big search sites like Orbitz and Travelocity. The nice things about them is that we can search for a package of airfare, hotel, and car. The drawbacks: We could not exclude the basic economy flights from the search and so any pricing required us to separately search for airfare and add back any additional costs if the site allowed us to “upgrade” to regular economy. (I am sure Sue will use a blog post at some point to rant about the injustice of the multi-economy pricing model, but we will leave that for another time. You know it.) I will confine my whine to say that the option to upgrade–if available at all–is usually buried somewhere towards the end of the booking.

We also searched the airline websites, which also offer packages and while we are able to book the right airfare, the hotel booking option is limited–at least on American (and United as far as I could tell) –to a hotel in the city where you are flying and for the entire time you are there. Not what we are looking for, so strike two. We were able to book the flights and then a separate booking on the airline site for the hotel (which got us extra miles!), but it is the same price as booking the hotel from the hotel site. Both of those exclude the mandatory resort fee from the price of the room. I don’t mind if they exclude the costs of options that we may not use (breakfast, internet, parking, etc.) from the listed price of the room. I might not want those extras and so I shouldn’t have to pay for them. But the “resort fee” is mandatory so I don’t have any option but to pay it. Seems like that should be part of the room fee. What next? Mandatory check-in fee? Or perhaps an elevator use tax? Please, just add $35 to the price of the room and just be done with it.

Parking is another issue. Since we need a car, we will have to park at the hotel for one night. I thought it might be a better idea to pick up the car Sunday morning–one fewer day of rental and not paying for the parking would be offset by the cost of two taxi/Uber/Lyft rides from/to the airport. The taxi/Uber/Lyft ride would be $10 each way. When I searched the cars, it is somewhat counter-intuitively $10 less expensive to rent the car on Saturday rather than on Sunday. No idea why. Perhaps there is a sin tax for renting on Sunday, although not likely as it is Las Vegas and if they were going to tax sin, renting a car on Sunday would have to be pretty far down the list. Either way, we have now booked it for Saturday and will pay the $15 to park.

We booked an AirBnB in St. George and I have the same sort of issue with their pricing. he place was listed at about $70 per night but the total was about $350. Last time I checked, and I realize I have been out of school for a long time (although he is allegedly an accountant) 4 nights@$70 per night should be about $280 (for those of you following along with your calculators do this: press the 4, press the * key press the 7 and then press the 0. Now press Enter; you should see 280. I don’t mind paying $350 per 4 nights, but that is NOT $70 per night.

So, here is my recap for this post. 1. Please let me search your site for what I want. 2. Give me a break and allow me to define what options I want/don’t want up front 3. Please organize the prices in a reasonable and logical order and 4. (and finally) JUST TELL ME THE DAMN PRICE. NO MANDATORY FEES OR NO HIDDEN CHARGES.

Where’s the zero?

We apologize, we haven’t been writing for the last few weeks. I would like to claim that there are good reasons, but really there haven’t been. It was my birthday a few weeks ago, then Sue’s was this week, we had a bunch of stuff to do around the house and work, as always is busy—but really, we have just been a bit lazy.

I got an email from a friend of mine with the title of this post as a subject and instantly I knew what happened. He stole my vacation. I know! What kind of friend steals your vacation, and how did he steal my vacation?

As many of you know, I am an accountant and a bit of a numbers geek. Yup, imagine that, a guy who spends all day looking at numbers goes home and thinks about them some more.

The tablet

Like most of you, I learned that zero was invented by the Arabs and spread to the West along with Arabic numerals as part of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. However, a few years ago, I read a book called “Finding Zero: A Mathematicians Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers.” It was really interesting and the author stated that a tablet found in Cambodia has a zero that predates the Ottoman Empire by 500 years; based on carbon dating, it is the oldest zero ever found. The tablet is now in a museum in Phnom Penh. This is a link to an article that he wrote in Smithsonian magazine. I was fascinated and knew that I had to convince Sue we had to see it. (Can you imagine that conversation? Steven: I have a great idea for a vacation. Sue: Where? Steven: Cambodia to see the oldest known zero!!!!. Sue: Um, yeah. How about someplace interesting? I am completely on board for Cambodia and if a zero gets Steven there, so be it.) We had a quick look at what that trip would be like and decided that it wouldn’t be this year.

One quick point that I would like to mention that the Bodelian library at Oxford University has a manuscript called the Bakhshali that some people claim has the oldest known zero. However, this is disputed by some as the manuscript has a number of parts from different ages and the zero in the manuscript is being used as decimal place holder rather than a “true zero.” (Did you all follow that? There’s a difference between signifying nothing and holding a place in, say, the number 101.)

All of which leads me to my stolen vacation. I have been talking my friends (and really anyone who is willing to listen to me) about wanting to go to Southeast Asia, to see, among other things this tablet. So what happens? My friend sends the above mentioned email, with the photo gloating that he had reached the holy zero place before me!

I hate my friend.

Road Trip!

The summer is soon upon us and we are thinking about getting in the car and driving. The Saab is still in good shape (for a 13 year old car) and so we are getting into planning mode. As Sue told you in her last post, I have started a new job where, horrors of horrors, they actually expect me to show up and work. Not sure what I was thinking when I agreed to this. But, I have now been there 2 weeks so it is time to explain to them that every summer I need to be on the road for (hopefully) 3 weeks.

This year, we have to be in Boston in late July for a wedding, so our thought is to drive there via Canada. The outline of the plan is to head for Montreal via Toronto, then to Quebec City to see three great Canadian cities. Then drop south into Maine and visit Acadia National Park. After we hang out with the blue bloods in Bar Harbor (pronounced Bah Hahbah) for a few days, will set our sites on Boston for the wedding.

Thank you SomeEcards for capturing my sentiments perfectly.

While in Boston, we will (hopefully) have time to go to Fenway (and lustily root AGAINST the Red Sox). From Beantown, we will head to the Big Apple (home of the Yankees–the greatest baseball team EVER (he is delusional) and Sue’s team–the Mets!!!!!!!), because we both love that city. From New York, it is pretty much a straight shot westward across Pennsylvania, Ohio & Indiana until we get back home to the Windy City. All in, about 2,500 miles and 42 hours of driving. Sue would to go to Nova Scotia from Quebec City, but that will add another 700 miles and 10 hours of driving, so we will see.

All in, I figure it is a 20-day trip, give or take. That assumes a minimum of 2 days in each city and no driving days of more than 6 hours. We haven’t really started to do the nuts and bolts planning (hotels, what we want to see, odd ball places to stop, etc.–ahem, who’s going to watch that giant beast of a dog?), but I think we will probably start that pretty shortly–once I ask for the time off…

El Avion

El Avion

Reading the news today, I saw that Oliver North was stepping down as the President of the National Rifle Association. This reminded me of something that made the Hotel Costa Verde unique and fun.

You may recall that when we were staying there, we spent one night in the cockpit cottage. They also had another “room” called the 727 Fuselage Home which was constructed from the fuselage of a 727 built in 1965. Additionally, they had one other airplane themed attraction. A restaurant called El Avion.

The thing that makes this restaurant so interesting is that it is built around an entire C-123 Fairchild cargo plane. “Big deal,” I hear you say (or maybe it was “What is a C-123 cargo plane?”). Either way, the type of plane is less important than its history.

For those of you who do not remember Ronald Reagan’s presidency, let me spend a few lines enlightening you. The Iranian people had overthrown the Shah in favor of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Hezbollah, an Iranian backed organization, was fighting a civil war in Lebanon and had taken a number of Americans hostage, Nicaragua had elected the socialist Sandinistas for their government. The president and his advisers were trying to support a group called the Contras who were attempting to overthrow the Sandinistas. Iran’s government was using American weapons bought when the Shah was in power to fight a war with Iraq and was desperate for resupply. It was illegal for the US to provide money or arms to both Iran and the Contras.

In steps our friend Oliver North, who was a lieutenant colonel and member of the National Security Council. Through a complicated web of transactions, he facilitated the illegal sale of weapons to Iran, and then diverted the money to illegally fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. All was going well…until people found out. There were Congressional hearings; various members of the executive branch were convicted of various crimes, then pardoned; the Contras attempt to overthrow the Sandinistas collapsed; and Iran’s war with Iraq continued for another 3 brutal years and ended in a stalemate.

So, back to the restaurant: The C-123 plane is one of the ones that Oliver North contracted to ferry the arms to the Contras. Here is how they tell the story.

The restaurant surrounds the plane and is like so many places in Costa Rica, open-sided. We sat upstairs with a beautiful view of Pacific Ocean and had a very nice dinner.

Ceding Control on a West Coast Jaunt

oakland2porttownsendUsually I am writing about my decisions or my future decisions about travel or how we decide what we’re going to do and where we’re going to do it, but much of my next trip will not be up to me. I did decide to go to Oakland, Calif., to see a very dear friend who is having a party (I love a good party!); therefore, the timing was not up to me. Then, we toyed with the idea of different road trips from there, and while I was leaning toward heading up the coast, she cemented it. So off we will go to Port Townsend, Wash.

I had a hand in most of that, but I am going to leave the rest of it up to my friend because she is bringing her dog and–surprise, surprise–most likely a foster teen (14 hours in a van with a teen?  – soooo pleased I won’t be there!). I am happy for her because she has been in the application process to be a foster mom for some time and she is very excited. Since I work with high school students all school year, I like to keep my distance in the summer, but it’s part of the adventure. Maybe it’s a good thing that my driving experience will be one-way, since I am flying back out of Seattle to cut some time off the trip.

My friend has already rented a Jucy, a vehicle I had never heard of; it’s a mini-RV, complete with beds and a little kitchen. I’m told they are very popular in Australia. 

Image result for jucy
Two friends, a teen, and a dog–should be fun!

Close quarters, but better than riding all that way in her sedan. (I was wondering how that would work and she was one step ahead of me.) I’m going to leave the details of the itinerary up to her, also, unless she really wants my input. I’m practicing relinquishing control (Steven, add snarky comment here  Moi?  I NEVER have snarky comments – especially about the idea that you might need some control over things… ), but I also think it will be fun to follow the travel plans of someone else and experience travel from someone else’s perspective. I know there will be hiking, good food, and friends. What more do I need? (Prozac? Lexapro? Thorazine? – oh wait you were talking about for the trip?  Nevermind.)

Opening Day!

The spring has arrived. I know this, not because it has stopped snowing in Chicago, but because baseball season has arrived. As Josh & I continue our tour of stadiums, we are attending opening weekend at Chase Field in Phoenix. Number 18 on our tour. We decided to attend the first two games of the year.

Chase Field

For those of you who do not remember or know, I am a die-hard Yankee’s fan while Josh follows the Atlanta Braves. Usually, we would be particularly vested in rooting for either team, but the Diamondbacks were playing the Red Sox, so I was working hard to help them win. The two greatest things in baseball? The Yankees winning and the Red Sox losing.

The first game of the season is always a somewhat special, the stadium is all decked out, both teams are introduced, and awards are presented. Friday’s match up was Porcello (Red Sox) vs. Godley (Diamondbacks) and was a slugfest…for the Diamondbacks. They jumped out to a 14-1 lead by the end of the 6th and it was all over after that. Boston scored a bunch of late runs, but the game was never in doubt. The one great thing about the game
other than a true beat down of the Red Sox with tons of Red Sox fans
is that we got to see a position player pitch. Eduardo Nunez, a former Yankee who now plays for Boston, pitched. This is the first time we have seen that.

Saturday morning we decided to go to Taliesen West, the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture school in Scottsdale. The tour took about an hour and was very interesting. They explained lots of his philosophy and how he used the shape and size of space to both move people and create a spaces for people to stay.

Saturday night we went to a second Diamondbacks/Red Sox Game. This one was much closer. The starting pitchers were David Price for Boston and Luke Weaver for Arizona. The score was tied 4-4 in the bottom of the 9th and we were thinking there would be extra innings. However, Eduardo Escobar got a single and then reached 2nd on a passed ball. Alex Avila singled to right and Escobar turned the corner and headed home, but was thrown out at home on a beautiful play by Boston. Avila reached second on the throw. Chris Kelly singled to left and brought Avila home for a walk off single! Great ending to a great baseball weekend.

Last Full Day :(

We said goodbye to our gracious hosts, Karl and Guiselle, and headed back around the lake to La Fortuna. We wanted to hike the old lava flows that remain from the Arenal Volcano. Somehow, we passed by our original target (the Costa Ricans haven’t quite gotten the hang of giant signs and billboards with arrows and neon lights for miles, so sometimes you have to actually be paying attention), but that was OK, because we ended up driving a little farther and finding another hike with lava flows. This one, the lava vieja (yes, old lava) trail, began at Arenal Observatory Lodge. The idea was a view of Arenal Volcano and a nice, 2-hour-or-so hike before lunch. The trail technically leads up Cerro Chato, another volcano, but the Costa Rican government has banned hiking up it because of the danger. We asked, but were told that the police patrol frequently. We weren’t sure if was true or not, but weren’t willing to take the chance. Maybe next time.

If you are imagining a U.S. style switchback trail, think again. Think rainforest even in dry season can be a bit muddy. Overall, the trail was well-maintained and marked so it was fine, but it was no easy stroll. We were going up, sometimes a bit steeply. I enjoyed this hike because it seemed secret, although I’m sure it’s not. It wasn’t in the national park or the commercial site next to the park, and got to see some more of Costa Rica’s fabulous flora and fauna. Plus another couple from Illinois. No one wants to be here at the end of March.

Flora

Fauna

Oh, and there was another hanging bridge.

When we got to the top of the trail, we were rewarded with … fog and clouds. As Karl put it, “Arenal is a shy volcano.” A bit disappointing, but in no way am I complaining. The view of the valley, lake, and forest were spectacular. All-in-all, a great beginning to our last day.

Our best view of Arenal Volcano, from the road to La Fortuna.

After the hike, we drove to La Fortuna for lunch and a wander. After examining the options, which mostly consisted of variations on “tipical food” and pizza, we settled on a place that Steven’s eagle eye for food noticed: The Corner, right a cross from the main park and, of course, on a corner. We had a delicious salad with lettuce, onion, pineapple, papaya, cashews, tortilla strips and ginger soy sauce dressing along with frozen ginger lemonades with the accent on ginger. Steven had a chicken crepe and I broke my vegetarianism for shrimp tacos. If you happen to be in La Fortuna, we highly recommend it. Next we wandered some souvenir shops, but didn’t find anything of particular interest, and then hit my target: the chocolate shop. Chocolate Fusion, with artisan chocolate designed for the American dollar. I would never spend $5 (HEY, HOW MUCH WERE THESE? $5 A BAR) for less than 2 ounces of chocolate at home no matter how good it was, but vacation dollars are different. Plus, this is really good chocolate. We bought a few bars and then went to the market to buy some snacks for the trip home. Did you know you can buy Smucker’s Goober Grape in Costa Rica? Finally, we hit the road, returned the car, and had a painless Uber (they say You-ber) ride to the Studio Hotel near San Jose airport.