Monthly Archives: August 2010

High Pressure Timeshare Presentations–The Reality

I wrote this after returning from Vegas, but did not have the time to post it–until now.  Without further ado, here’s the story of our experience with a time share presentation.  All company names have been omitted, in the spirit of true capitalism.

We had just arrived in Vegas, and we were hungry.  We entered the casino next door to our hotel, going on a tip in a budget guide book suggesting a great Mexican place with good happy hour deals.  Immediately, we were accosted by a woman standing near the door.
“Are you staying at this property?” she asked.
“No.”
“Will you be here tomorrow?”
“Yes, we will.”
“Great–step right this way.  Excuse me,” she said to a British man sitting behind the customer service desk, “comp them.” 

Comp us?  As in give us free stuff?  Why sure–that sounded great.
Of course there had to be a catch–this was Vegas after all, and I’d learned long ago, in seventh grade economics class, that there is no such thing as a free lunch–and a free lunch was part of what we were promised.  A free lunch along with free tickets to the show of our choice, if we agreed to take a look at the hotel’s ‘new property’.  Now, we’re not stupid, and we know what a time share presentation is–or at least we thought we knew.

But we figured–why not?  Free lunch, free show tickets.  We could even look at the presentation as a sort of entertainment.  They said they had an example condo set up that we could visit.  It sounded interesting.  So we agreed to come back the next day at 2:00–and gave the man $20, to be refunded to us at the end of the presentation the following day.
To be honest, we had little intention of purchasing a time share from this company, though we did discuss the idea of it in the pool that morning.  We supposed, if we were ever going to buy a time share, Vegas would be the place in which to do it.  We like Vegas a lot, are certain that we will return, and the weather is pleasant all year.  Plus, lots of people we know and work with have time shares.  And they are intelligent, normal people with incomes similar to ours.  It just might not be a bad idea.
When we showed up at the same desk that very next day, we encountered several other couples who had agreed to the same thing.  An older woman looked at me and said, quietly, “I hope they are not disappointed.  We have no intention of buying anything”.  I smiled at her and agreed.
We were whisked off, promptly at 2:00 for our 90 minute presentation.  “It probably won’t even be a full 90 minutes” the British man at the counter had confided the day before.  Oh how I wish he hadn’t been lying through his teeth. 

By the end of the day, I was convinced that not only was he not telling the truth, he probably wasn’t even British.  I’m thinking his real accent had to sound more New York or New Jersey than anything else.  In fact, I was convinced that at our free show, we’d see all of the people we’d encountered that day, as they were all very, very good actors.
I was expecting a large room with a bunch of chairs, a large group of people just like us, and a presenter with a video and maybe a power point presentation.  What we got was a plush waiting room–where we waited for a good long time–and then a giant cafeteria style room filled with small tables, each couple talking one on one with an agent.  It was a little more up close and personal than I’d anticipated, though the woman we met with did put me at ease.
She went through her whole speech, complete with awkward drawings on the back of a quote sheet, and the requisite flipping through a glossy-paged binder. Admitting that she doesn’t usually do the selling part, but that she owns a timeshare and works for the company, she promised to try her best ‘so we didn’t have to wait for an available agent’.  She was young and cute, and she talked us through the benefits of owning a time share, as opposed to ‘renting’ vacation property.  It made sense. 

We then went for our little tour–a long, long walk through the casino to the actual building, which she pointed to, and then back to a model room that was, I admit, very impressive.  But we’d not heard the most important part yet–the price.
Of course price was the last thing mentioned–had it been the first, no one would have stayed until the end.  In exchange for the honor of staying in one of these condos for two weeks out of the year, we were being asked to pay the staggering sum of forty eight thousand dollars.  Yes, that’s right, $48,000.  Financed over the course of seven years, at an unbelievable 18.99%, the monthly payment was just about the same as our mortgage.  We gagged, looked at each other, laughed, and politely declined.
If you think that is where the story ends, you clearly have never been to a time share presentation.
Ok, she said, she’d be right back with our free tickets, and then we were free to go.  But she did not come back with our free tickets–she came back with bad cop.  Bad cop was a very, very angry woman, who talked nicely to us for about three minutes until her forked tail and horns started to materialize.  I stated that the price and the interest rate were simply too high, and that it just was not feasible at this time.
“So if it were not for the financial aspect, you’d be ok with this?” she pressed.
“Well…yes.  I mean, it is just way too much money, and we weren’t really looking to–”
“Well what if we did this?” she cut me off, and started writing new numbers and circling things and crossing old numbers out.
I looked helplessly at my husband–she was talking to me but I hate confrontation–but before he could even speak, she continued.
“M’am–is there a problem?” she prodded rudely.
“Well, no, but, um…”
“Is there a problem?!?”
“Actually, yes, you see, you’re yelling at me…” I tried to continue.
It went on like this for a while, with me being visibly uncomfortable with her yelling at me which was not helped by her calling me on the visible uncomfortableness.  After a few short moments, she became downright aggressive.
“Well, I guess we’re just going to sit here, because I have my job to do, and you have to be here for 90 minutes!” she practically spit at me.  I pointed out that, as it was now 3:45 and we’d arrived at 2:00, we’d actually been there far past the 90 minute mark, but she didn’t care.  I’m pretty sure this woman’s job was to get us to get very angry–which she did manage to do–so that we’d storm out without out our refund or tickets–which we did not do, though every muscle in my body was screaming at me to run out of that room.  I’ve never felt so attacked, so put down, so belittled by an angry woman with a binder.
At this point I could tell my husband was also frustrated, and he began to say things like “I don’t think you’re listening to me” and “I really have nothing else to say”.  Which had absolutely no effect on bad cop’s angry, misguided attempt to sell us something–anything.  She actually got a plan down to $50 a month for something absolutely ridiculous, like a three day vacation every three years–which anyone with a calculator could tell you still isn’t a good deal in any way.  I was really starting to think we’d end up with a monthly bill for the next seven years just to get out of there, and I was very near the point of bursting into tears.
As I sat there, and the minutes ticked by, I thought about all of the other people in that room who had been fished out of the casino and brought to this miserable room to be belittled.  I wondered if they all felt as uncomfortable and frustrated as I did at that moment.  I wondered if anyone ever purchased anything this way.  And I decided that nothing, ever, would be worth coming to a presentation like this again.  A free cruise?  I’ll pass.  A week in Maui?  No thanks.  I’d rather pay for my own way with cash or credit than with my dignity.  And that’s exactly what I’d given up, for one hour and fifty five minutes that afternoon.
But did we get our money back, and our free tickets?  You bet we did.  And then we promptly left the property, likely never to return again.  Not even for great Mexican food with good happy hour deals.

EDIT–Please excuse the lack of paragraph breaks.  I copy/pasted this, and then sat there and did the breaks myself, and even then they didn’t show up in the post.  Terribly sorry!

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Fixing a Hole

I’m starting to turn back into myself.  It is an odd feeling, but far less disturbing than how I’ve felt for the last several weeks.  That feeling–a numb emptiness–was even more unsettling.  And I know that lots of people get depressed after a trip, especially a long trip.  But I didn’t expect to feel that way because, well, I didn’t have a good time on said trip.  What I did not take into account was the hole that I unknowingly ripped in my life–and that hole is taking a long time to fill.

You see, I spent hours every single day planning that trip–from the first of the year until we boarded the plane in July.  To do this, I stopped doing a lot of other things I’d previously loved.  I stopped doing home improvements, which was something I’d previously spent a lot of time, energy, and money on because, well, I didn’t have the time, energy, or (especially) money.  Every single extra cent was going into a vase, earmarked for Europe.  I stopped planning small weekend trips for the same reason.  I stopped cooking beautiful meals half because I spent hours each night on this computer trip planning and then blogging about it, and half because I was trying to reduce my grocery bill–it doesn’t take much time or creativity to grill a piece of chicken and pick some lettuce.  I stopped reading my favorite kind of fiction–young adult–because I stopped reading fiction entirely.  My desk was filled with travel books; I even read them during SSR time in my own classroom.  I changed so many things about myself and my life, all so I could put every bit of energy and money toward The Trip.  I feel like I (sort of) now know how parents feel the day their child goes off to college.  It’s like–’now what?’

Fortunately I was able to spend the day ‘getting my groove back’ (for lack of a much better term!)  A book I’ve been looking forward to for months came out today, so I went to the bookstore first thing this morning to pick it up.  I didn’t get to spend as much time reading it as I would have liked, but I did have at least an hour of quality time on the back porch with said book.  And while we did have a very low-maintenance dinner–grilled chicken and salad again–I did spend a bit of time on two of my favorite websites (tripadvisor and priceline) pricing hotels for an upcoming weekend in D.C. (for the National Book Festival–I bask in my nerd glory!)

So, slowly and with much help from fictional heroine Katniss Everdeen and a Captain Kirk sponsored website, I am becoming Tracy again.  Hopefully she will be in her beautiful-meal-making glory before Labor Day weekend, when many people are coming to her house to eat.  And hopefully, by then, she will stop talking about herself in the third person.

Internet Karma: Lodging Reviews

As I spent most of my time bitching about Europe, I didn’t write my typical review-style blog entries.  But I do feel it is my moral obligation to write reviews to post on Tripadvisor, as I use that site for everything I book (I believe in a kind of internet karma).  Today I took some time and wrote reviews for the places we’ve stayed–I’ll get to the restaurant reviews…some day.  Maybe.  I’m including all of these reviews as a post, in case anyone is interested in staying at any of these places.

Please note, I have no affiliation with any of these establishments, and paid to stay at each one (so no one is paying me to write nice things–clearly, as not all things written are nice!)  Also please note, these were written to be posted on Tripadvisor, which is why there are references to star ratings.

Hotel Thirty Thirty–NYC

Hotel Thirty Thirty

This was a great little hotel.  The desk staff was helpful, the room was clean and large enough (by NYC standards, of course), the lobby was lovely, there was a bar next door we didn’t try (but had great happy hour deals posted) and a great little bar across the street that we did try and loved (The Crooked Knife).  Additionally, the hotel was well located–we walked to the Empire State Building/Herald Square/Macy’s (we were only in town for one day on our way to the airport, so we weren’t really sightseeing).  We would definitely stay here again, especially considering the great price.  Check out Brasserie Les Halles around the corner–friends took us here for dinner, and it was fantastic.

easyHotel Victoria–London

Yes, the rooms are very small.  However small you are imagining, they are smaller, and the reality of that smallness is a bit more shocking than you think.  We had a ‘large room with window’–the most ‘expensive’ room you can get (I think we paid something like $60 USD) which is a deal in London.  The shower was a bit of a challenge, as it was so small, standing under the water caused one’s elbow (or hip or butt or belly) to turn the water either off or to very hot or very cold–but the good news is that the water DID get very hot!  The location was very good–we walked to Westminster Abbey, and with Victoria station right there, you have access to almost every tube line and bus line in the city.  My husband and I stayed here for one night and were fine–I don’t think we could have handled two nights.  Though traveling alone, I would stay here for a week without hesitation.  An additional note–due to a flight snafu, we had to email them to make sure we could have a VERY late check in–10am the morning AFTER we’d booked.  They had no problem with this, and check in was easier and faster than any check in I’ve ever experienced–very important after a red-eye transatlantic flight!

The Hoxton–London

I so wanted to love this hotel.  It got such great reviews, and we got a really good deal, as we booked in advance and were staying

Beautiful Bathroom

over the weekend, which is (much) less expensive.  Well, I now know why it is much less expensive–because the tube station down the street is closed on Saturdays and Sundays, and the next closest station is a twenty minute walk through a questionable neighborhood that is currently under construction (think homeless people and guys with jackhammers–not a nice stroll) and, to add insult to injury, the two lines that ran through that station were closed that weekend.  We ended up spending enough on cabs to have stayed at a better located hotel.

Now, of course, none of this is The Hoxton’s fault, and that’s why I’m giving it as many stars as I have (I gave it three out of five).  The hotel itself was fantastic–the staff were friendly and helpful (we were allowed to check in at nine am!), there’s a great lobby/lounge area, the breakfast was reasonably priced and great, and the rooms were top-notch (free wifi, great showers, mood lighting)  There was literally nothing more I could have asked for from the hotel itself–aside from, perhaps, quiet.  The admittedly very cool atrium off the lounge area is beyond busy at night–and why not, it’s a cool place to hang out (one of the cab drivers that dropped us off remarked that he never knew that The Hoxton was a hotel–he thought it was a club!) so it is VERY loud at night–and we were on the 6th floor.  However, it always stopped right around midnight, and we’re not early sleepers, so it wasn’t that big of a deal–but it is certainly something to think about for those who are the early to bed type.

The Hoxton--atrium patio off of lounge area.

All in all, it is very difficult to rate this hotel.  If given the option of five stars, I’d typically assign one star to each of the following categories:  staff, room niceness, atmosphere, location and price.  The staff and rooms were great (two stars), the atmosphere was half good and half bad (because it was so ‘cool’, it was also loud–half of a star), the location was terrible, and the price was good, but the cost of transport to and from everything we wanted to do offset the cost of the room, making it a much more expensive choice (half of a star, for a grand total of three stars).  I would not stay here again.  I would stay somewhere less cute and less hip (and even less clean!) in exchange for quiet and a convenient location.

The Paris Apartment

We very much enjoyed our stay at this apartment.  The location was great, the building was secure, and the apartment was clean and spacious.  When I booked the apartment, I had several concerns; I am assuming others will have the same concerns, so I will address each of mine–none of which turned out to be valid.

Concern number one was the lack of air conditioning.  I realize this sounds like a silly concern, but living in Pennsylvania, I cannot imagine spending two weeks at the end of July without AC.  I was very concerned, and actually seriously considered a different, more expensive, much smaller apartment rental based solely on the fact that that apartment had air conditioning.  That would have been a stupid decision.  First of all, it was warm maybe two out of the fourteen days we spent in Paris–and by warm, I mean warm, not hot.  It maybe went up to 80 degrees.  And even with that ‘heat’, the layout of the windows in the apartment allowed for a great cross breeze, and we were never hot.  The other twelve days we were there, it was so cool at night that I would wear a sweater to walk down

Home away from home in Paris

the street for gelato.  We were never hot in the apartment–not once.

Concern number two was the size of the apartment.  I’ve seen apartments and hotels in NYC, and I was afraid of living in a shoebox for two weeks.  This apartment was so spacious, I wondered how it was possible that it existed in a large city.  I could live there–with my husband–365 days a year.

Concern number three was location–you never really know if you are in a good location when you visit a city for the first time.  This apartment is well located for three reasons.  One, it is less than half a mile from the Notre Dame, the very center of Paris, which means yes, you can stroll along the Seine whenever you want.  Two, it is in a little neighborhood that has everything you could possibly want–produce stands, a butcher, multiple restaurants and cafes, a pharmacy, three places to buy wine (very important), a Monoprix–there was nothing that was not within easy walking distance (as in less than two minutes).  And three, you are steps away from the Rambuteau metro stop, making getting around the city a breeze.  From the Louvre to the door of the apartment was less than 10 minutes total if you took the metro–if you wanted, you could walk, and it would take maybe 30 minutes.

Aside from my concerns being unfounded, this apartment really did have it all.  Giant windows that opened onto the dining area, making it feel like we had our own little cafe.  A washing machine that made packing light a joy–we had only backpacks for our three weeks overseas, and honestly, I could have brought LESS.  The kitchen was great–I cooked dinner twice, and had everything I needed to do so.  Even the decor was nice–the furniture has recently been updated, and the photos on vrbo do not do the place justice.  If we ever return to Paris, we would definitely stay here again, and would encourage friends and relatives to do the same.

The Convent Hotel–Amsterdam

It was much cuter in person!

This was a great hotel from top to bottom.  The location was great–a less than ten minute walk from the train station, and directly across the street from a tram stop.  The room was clean and quaintly decorated, with a little sitting area and a minibar that had room in it for your own things–should you want to chill a bottle of wine.  The bed was, and I quote myself, ‘like sleeping in a giant marshmallow’–I have never been so comfortable.  The staff was warm and friendly, and the lobby was well appointed.  There was a little bar with giant overstuffed chairs that we would have visited if we would have stayed longer.  I cannot find any fault with this hotel at all.  Oh–and if you care about this sort of thing during your stay, it was two doors down from a not-so-scary-looking coffee shop (some were scary looking), and next door to a great little pastry shop that sold fantastic apple turnovers (my husband had three in the two days we were there!)  We will return to Amsterdam, and when we do, we will stay at this hotel.

Yotel Gatwick–London

All I can say is–what a fantastic idea.  They should have these kinds of hotels everywhere.  We stayed at the Gatwick Yotel because we had a very early flight home–6:25am.  We checked in at 7pm and out at 5am.  Had we stayed in London, we would have had to get up at an insane hour to be safely at the airport in time for our flight.  Instead, we took the Gatwick express from Victoria at the end of our last day, checked into the Yotel, had several drinks in one of the airport restaurants, and

Photo taken from the glass walled bathroom

got a good night’s sleep and a great shower before leaving in the morning.  As Gatwick is open 24 hours a day, I saw several people sleeping on the floor, with piles of their stuff around them, and all I could think was ‘why didn’t they just get a room at the Yotel?’  It wasn’t even that expensive!  Additionally, when I had to change the dates of my booking because I changed the date of my flight, they emailed me back within twenty minutes that of course I could change the date–no questions asked, no problems whatsoever.  Great customer service, a great experience, and a great concept!

Please note:  when I say ‘we’, I am referring to my husband and I, but we each had our own rooms.  They are very, very small, so I would not suggest trying to share one, unless of course the alternative is sleeping on the floor of the airport!

Glutton for Punishment

As this is to be a post about my next vacation destinations, I shall ask a question first–where would you most like to see us go next?  In keeping with my previous offer to write ‘This Place Sucks’ travel guides, feel free to suggest places that I’d hate, and tell me why I’d hate them–or why reading about my being there would be knee-slappingly funny.

—————————–

I have no idea when the urge to travel hit me.  By all accounts it should never have happened, given my extremely bad travel track record early on in life.  Just today at my father’s birthday dinner, we told my husband the story of our first–and only–big family vacation: a trip on a Disney ‘Big Red Boat’ Cruise that started out sailing through a tropical storm (yes, it was red, and yes, it was a boat, but no, it was not big.  It wasn’t even medium!)  Even the entertainers on board were sick–I was only ten, but I specifically remember standing in line for the infirmary behind women wearing sequined leotards and feathered hats.

But the more I think about it–and trust me, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my travel dreams since we returned from this last trip–the more I realize how much travel has been a part of my life for many, many years.  I am who I am today because of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met along the way.  From road trips to hippie music festivals, to weeks spent on mountains at various spiritual gatherings, to yet more weeks on different mountains (and one island) writing and learning, I’ve gone many places.  And I’ve gone to each place with a purpose.  To dance, to meet people, to expand my understanding of the world and myself, to advance a hobby or a career, or to celebrate our honeymoon (er, honeymoons–we took two).

I’ve not yet determined the purpose of this last trip.  I didn’t start out with one–other than a blanket ‘I want to see the world’ statement.  It served many purposes, though none were planned, and I’m sure in the years to come I will discover more and more things I learned from that trip.  But it didn’t start out as a quest.  Hell–even reading back in this blog, I can’t find any reason I had to take the trip, other than ‘because I could’.  And maybe that’s what I was going for.  I’d never really gone anywhere just for the hell of it before–and I never thought I ‘could’ go to Europe.  So I went.  And I’m glad I did.  And, as I’ve said several times, I’m even more glad that I’m home.

Yet, despite many of the things I wrote about our most recent trip, I’m not ready to throw in the travel towel just yet.  In fact, I have several trips I’d like to do in the near future, some that I’m sure of and some that are still in the ‘google and dream’ stage.  My new purpose for travel?  To have fun.  That has to be at the top of the list, at least for a while.  What the Europe trip lacked in ‘fun factor’ will more than be made up for in future trips.  And I’m sure, after all of that fun, at some point in the not too distant future, I’ll stop and say something like ‘damn, I sure could go for a metro ride to a crowded museum!’

So without further ado, here’s my list of future travel destinations.  What are some of yours?

San Francisco–This is a definite, not a maybe, and soon.  My oldest friend has lived there for MANY years (Man, how many has it been?  Seven?  Eight?) and I’ve not gone out to see her.  I am going out to see her as soon as possible (as in ‘was pricing flights for next Sunday–sadly, I don’t think that’s going to work out, but it is going to work out sometime before the new year, damnit!)

Orlando–This is a maybe, and the one that breaks the ‘to have fun’ purpose.  The NCTE convention is in Orlando this year.  My husband is going, and there’s a chance I can go with him.  I will have fun here–I had fun at the convention in Philly last year–but the nature of a convention means that learning has to be priority number one.  And no, I’ll not be visiting Disney.  I shudder at the thought.  (Though, to be fair, simply writing that down here means I’ll likely come back with a Mickey Mouse tattoo and a Disney timeshare!)

Jamaica–Also a definite, and very specific.  This coming May, my husband and I are going to Sandals Ocho Rios for the wedding of my friend (and former maid of honor).  I never thought we’d go to a Sandals, or to Jamaica, or on vacation during the school year–but I guess that’s one of the reasons why you have friends!

Some sort of Cruise–Either Southern Caribbean or Bermuda, some time next summer.  I like cruises, say what you will about germs and small cabins (those things are all true).  They are relaxing and fun, and as those are my priorities right now, I’m admitting to being a person who likes cruising.  Hello, my name is Tracy, and I like cruising.

Road Trip–New England and Eastern Canada, ideally next summer as well.  This is the trip we started planning for this summer, before everything got out of control.

Montana–My husband’s cousin was there recently, and I saw one picture on my sister-in-law’s phone, and I’m determined to go there.  Take that, Alps!  (Though I’d love to go to Switzerland, too…see below.)

The Grand Canyon–We’ve been to Vegas two summers in a row now, and we’re ready to take a break.  Each time we’ve gone, I’ve listed ‘see the Grand Canyon’ as one of the top things I wanted to do–and we’ve not done it yet.  So our next trip in that direction will be specifically to the Grand Canyon, and maybe Sedona.  I’m thinking this won’t be for a few years, but who knows?

Future Europe Trip(s)–In the distant future, I’d like to return to the UK and spend more time in the countryside, somehow working Scotland into a large part of that plan.  Switzerland is at the top of my list–I could spend two weeks walking through Alpine villages with nary a church or museum in sight (and lots of trees upon which I can openly pee)  We’ve already looked at cruises (yes, again) with titles involving the word ‘Viking’ that visit Iceland and Scandinavia.  That’s always been my ideal trip, and my husband’s number one Europe request was ‘something with fjords’.  And of course, I’d never turn down a return trip to Amsterdam, and will henceforth try to work it in to any future trip we will ever take to that continent.  Fortunately for us, many UK and Scandinavian cruises leave from or end up there, so I’m sure we will be back.

Things for which I am Thankful

I’ve been home for more than one full week, and this list in particular has been growing. So despite the fact that actual Thanksgiving is many months away, I bring you The List of Things for Which I am Thankful.

I am thankful…

1.  That I had the opportunity to go on a trip like this, even if it didn’t turn out like I’d planned.
2.  That I took eighteen hundred photos.  They remind me of the good parts.  And, contrary to what I’ve written on here, there were some good parts.
3.  That nothing went ‘terribly’ wrong on the trip–no one got really sick or broke anything, no one lost anything important, nothing was stolen…and so on.
4.  I know I keep saying this in different ways, but I am thankful that I’m married to a man who stuck with me through all of the bad parts.  And by ‘bad parts’ I mean ‘the times when I was being a huge bitch’.
5.  For my mother, who not only helped me get home when I needed to, but who cleaned my house while I was gone.  And weeded the garden.  And text messaged me happy thoughts.
6.  For the fact that I decided to skip Barcelona, and that doing so was possible.
7.  For my friends, who call me up and say ‘hi…so how’s it going?’ in a tone typically reserved for someone who just went through a messy break-up and/or just got over a long and possibly embarrassing illness, like a hernia operation or, oh I don’t know, some kind of ass surgery.  I appreciate their support and the fact that they’re not telling me I’m an idiot for not having fun.  To add to that, beyond just being nice about my blunders, I am thankful for my friends in general.  I’ve seen a great many of them already in the one week since I’ve returned, and it is so good to spend time with other people–and people who make me laugh.
8.  For my car.  I love my car.  It’s not a fancy car–hell, it isn’t even a ‘nice’ car, but it takes me wherever I want to go right when I want to go there.  And for that, I am extremely thankful.
9.  For kind waiters who speak English.  I actually almost hugged the server at The Outback the night after we came home.  When I told him why I was so enthralled with his service, he said ‘oh I know–waiters in Paris are very cold.  And isn’t it, like, SO dirty there?’  That was the part where I almost hugged him!
10.  For my own kitchen, a fridge full of food I can cook, and a garden full of fresh veggies.  For my grill, my Santoku knife and super-sized cutting board; and, when I tire of all of that, I am thankful for pizza delivery and nice restaurants with prices in dollars and menus in English that I know I like and can visit whenever I’d like.  In my car.  With my friends or husband or mother.
11.  That I’ve finally stopped saying ‘pardon’ instead of ‘excuse me’.  Also for the fact that I don’t HAVE to say ‘excuse me’ over and over again in any language, as I’m no longer spending my days shuffling through crowds.
12.  For my newfound perspective on how much ‘stuff’ I really need.  I lived out of a backpack for over three weeks–why do I have three closets full of clothing I never wear?  Hopefully someone at a thrift store will be thankful for my donations in the very near future.
13.  That we went to Amsterdam.  I almost deleted it from the trip entirely at several points–up to and including ten minutes before we got on the train (having been deeply upset by afore mentioned angry gypsy woman).  It, along with our side trip to Bath, was the highlight of the trip.
14.  That we returned to London on our way home.  Even though it was part of my crazy 36-hour return trip from hell, it made me appreciate the city in a new way.  Ok–who am I kidding?  After Paris, I LOVED London!
15.  For all of the lessons that I learned.  They will serve me well when planning future trips.  And there will be future trips–maybe not outside of the US for a while (or anywhere expensive until we pay off this last one!) but there WILL be future trips.  In fact, my very next post will be on precisely that topic.  Stay tuned.

Things That Surprised Me

I’m going to try to write this list in order, as I feel surprise is a concept that grows as it evolves.  I also would like to point out how I was (stupidly) continually surprised at the same things, over and over again.  You’d think I would learn.  But alas, I did not.

I was surprised by how…

1.  hectic Victoria station was.
2.  difficult it was to find our way from Victoria station to easyHotel Victoria.  It was less than six blocks away, but we could not even figure out which direction to walk.
3.  much I enjoyed Westminster Abbey, even though I’d not slept in over 30 hours.
4.  improved my attitude was after taking a cab to a nicer, bigger hotel on our second day in London.
5.  big London really is.  Those guide book maps make everything seem really close.  It is not.
6.  many people could not answer us when we asked them for directions–it seems no one knows where they are in London, or how to get anywhere else.  We were actually asked by someone else how to get somewhere, and of course we couldn’t answer him, either!
7.  inefficient the London tube system is.  How can whole lines close on weekends?  What do people DO?
8.  expensive cabs are in London.  I guess that’s what ‘people do’–but holy crap, we spent more on transport than we did on food!
9.  annoyed I was to always have to have change for the restrooms.  I was prepared for this, as in ‘I knew I’d have to do it’, but not prepared for how difficult it would be to make sure I’d always have the proper change.
10.  awful it was stepping off of the Eurostar into a country where I didn’t speak the language.
11.  people just stood in line for a metro ticket machine, even though the line stretched up the stairs, which were far beyond the actual machine.
12.  the machine could just be broken, and no one fixed it or stepped in to help.
13.  long the line was for the taxi, and that this, too, was somehow ‘ok’.  ‘Ok’ to me is implied, again, by the fact that no one tried to remedy the situation.
14.  much I liked our apartment in Paris.  I thought it would be small and dirty–it was large and clean.
15.  many people–er, tourists–were in Paris, particularly at places like Notre Dame.
16.  again, things can just be broken.  Like restrooms.  At crowded tourist attractions.  Like Notre Dame.  And Sacre Coeur.  Imagine going to Disney World and the Disney people saying ‘sorry–toilets are out of order.  Enjoy your day!’  Right.
17.  how bad Paris smelled.  See above surprise about toilets.  It really shouldn’t have been a surprise.
18.  very true the statement ‘wherever you go, there you are’ is.  I thought planning this and looking forward to it for months would mean that I’d have a fresh, accepting attitude towards everything.  I did not.
19.  bad the food was in France.  I have never been so hungry for so long.
20.  very much my husband must love me.  Because at no point did he learn the French word for ‘divorce lawyer’.

Looking over those items, it seems I was experiencing ‘culture shock’.  But here’s another surprise for me–I didn’t think I’d be culturally shocked.  I honestly did not.  I assumed people who experience culture shock are shocked by things that others do, but that do not affect the shock-ee, like how I felt about dogs in grocery stores (read:  ‘oh, isn’t that quaint and different!’).  I was annoyed by things that AFFECTED ME–like broken machines, nauseating stench, and mind-blowingly long lines.  I didn’t think the ‘culture’ would affect me.  Well…surprise, surprise!

Things I Learned

I had to cut this off at twenty items, because it was getting out of control.  There are many, many more things I could add to the list.

1.  You can plan a trip, but it’s never going to be like you planned.
2.  An idea is far different from reality.
3.  Guidebooks are bullshit.  There’s no way anyone can do as much in a day as is suggested.  A ‘best of _____ in one day’ should be done over three, maybe four days.
4.  I have no desire to travel alone in another country.  Yes, I can do it here.  No, I cannot do it there.  And that does not make me any less of a person.  Being ‘cool’ and being ‘stupid’ are very similar.
5.  I am uncomfortable in places where I do not speak the language.
6.  Paris is overrun with homeless people, gypsies, junkies, and general beggars.  However, they are all very talented.  Some sing, some do chalk drawings, some play instruments.  They all speak multiple languages.  In summation, the homeless people in Paris are better educated than me, but they are still homeless.  I do not understand this.
7.  Paris is dirty.  Very, very dirty.  The best parts of Paris were dirtier than the worst parts of London.
8.  Amsterdam is awesome.  I would fly across the ocean just to go there again.
9.  I’m mean and judgmental wherever I am, even if I spent a lot of time and money to get somewhere.
10.  Spending a lot of time and money to get somewhere does not mean you will have fun.
11.  A trip and a vacation are two very different things.  I thought I understood this before–I didn’t.
12.  Just because you have the time, it does not mean you should spend the time.
13.  It is worth the extra money you’d spend to stay somewhere more centrally located.  You’ll spend less time and money on transportation.
14.  It is worth the extra money you’d spend to fly into and out of somewhere closer to your starting and ending points, even if they are different.  Our two day return trip made me want to die.  Eurostar from Paris to London, tube from St. Pancras to Victoria, an hour in line for left luggage, a day spent roaming about the city tired and wanting to go home, a cab back to Victoria, a train to Gatwick, an airport pod for ten hours, a flight to Dublin, an hour and a half layover, a seven hour flight to JFK, another cab ride to Port Authority, a bus ride to Allentown and a car ride home–I’d pay thousands of dollars to never have to do that again.  Thousands.
15.  Budgeting for a trip is stupid.  When you are there, and hungry, or the tube is down, or you are cold, you are going to buy food, transportation, and a sweater–no matter how much those things cost.
16.  A good husband is hard to find, but I clearly found one.  He survived this trip with me, for better and for worse.
17.  Blogging whilst traveling is not always the best idea.  Yes, it helps you remember the good parts.  But it also reminds you of the bad parts–over and over again, in a very non-productive way.  It is entirely possible that I would have had a very different trip, had the apartment not had wifi.
18.  I like to travel by train.  I do not like train stations.
19.  The English countryside is beautiful.  I imagine the French countryside is, too.  I like countryside.  Thus, I should not have planned a four-city tour.
20.  There’s no place like home.