The travels of a world-wide drifter, best viewed from your laptop
Category: Places to stay
This category is only for stays of note, which is not something I do often, so historic hotels, theme hotels, etc.; Mostly I stay at Airbnb’s (private homes and rooms rented out to strangers, coined the “sharing economy” by the press), while trying to pay no more than $56 a night — preferably less (what my rent+utilities, etc. would have worked out to), or if that isn’t feasible — usually on days where I’m driving till I drop — I’ll stay at internationally known branded hotels which get to be pretty interchangeable after you’ve seen enough of them (trying to keep it between $75 and $130/night).
The Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba Missouri is both one of the oldest historic motels along Route 66, and of them the only one to have been continuously operating since its opening. From the outside is actually pretty idyllic. It is built in the Tudor Revival style out of Ozarksandstone. It opened initially as a cafe and filling station in 1936, and then expanded into a motel in 1938; and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The motel consists of a collection of very cute looking homes with stone exteriors, that sits behind a larger main house
In front of which are some historic gas pumps (but gas is no longer sold here.
When I arrived, the main building was undergoing some regular maintenance/cosmetic upkeep repairs, which is in keeping with the whole “Viva Cuba” project that I discussed in my recent post about the town of Cuba itself. Inside the main building was a check in counter, and an unusually large gift store — taking up the area that I’m guessing originally housed the cafe.
The Motel was apparently fully renovated in 2010, but looking on-line I found some very mixed reviews… A lot of folks love the place, but those who didn’t were vitriolic, saying that it is one of those motels that looks a hell of a lot better on the outside than supposedly it looks on the inside. But like I said, MIXED reviews, and I haven’t stayed here so I can’t comment personally.
I asked the woman who seemed to be the owner “are you renovating the interiors too or just the exteriors?”, and she said “yes, you can go inside and shop” …. On the upside, the gift store was selling route 66 T-shirts that were specific to the location, rather than the generic crap that has annoyed me for most of the my route 66 Trek
Passed this Route 66 Icon, the Munger-Moss Motel… which is celebrating 72 years on 66 and stopped to snap a picture.
You know you’re looking at a historic motel when the neon sign advertises, “Free TV”
That said, later while driving on 66 I passed a roadside sign (aimed to be seen by the drivers on I-44) advertising the place
Scanning through the reviews (google, yelp, tripadvisor, etc) apparently this is one of the better cheap places to stay. It has 1950’s decor and the sort of privately owned place where you need to arrive before the owner goes to sleep.
The Grand Canyon Railway experience is essentially a two-hour train ride from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon… if you return the same day (another two hours) you will have gotten to stay there for about three hours (so a taste). OR — if you are the hiking type, you can opt to stay at a hotel at the Canyon and return a different day. The “experience” includes a cute little show before the ride, and then some entertainment while on the train, and concludes with a “faux” train robbery on the way back. All in all, when you add up the prices, IF you’re doing route 66 and just want to pop over to the Grand Canyon, to see it… this actually works out to be a pretty good deal money wise.
The CHEAPEST ticket, which is what I got, was $62.86. This was for the Pullman car, their most historic car (No air-conditioning) and did not include the park entrance fee (as I have been buying the National Park’s yearly pass since I first started traveling… I have yet to not get my money’s worth — when you buy the ticket you tell you have it, when you pick up the tickets you show them the pass and they write down its ID number to submit to the park officials). IF you consider the cost of gas (maybe 3 hours there and back — the train does it slower), wear and tear on your car, finding parking, etc etc…. and the fact that the train includes live entertainment … I think it’s worth it to do it once.
A lot of the people who do this opted to stay at their hotel as well, but this is not necessary and not what I did. (There is a Harvey House at that location, but its not where you’ll be staying… and you don’t have to stay at the hotel to see it. Essentially, its been replaced by a fairly generic building that looks like pretty much every other 3 star hotel along our highways)… I stayed at the Howard Johnson located about 2 blocks north, for substantially less money. (That said the hotel is OK, but the owners … an Indian couple… just don’t get it. The rooms are clean and comfortable, the WiFi was BLAZING fast… but the security is suspiciously lax. IF You go to this hotel make sure you check in early enough that you can change rooms if you need to. The hotel has no elevators, and they won’t help you with your bags if you have mobility issues like I do. The room I ultimately got did NOT have a chain on the door, or any sort of way for me to keep hotel staff out while I was sleeping. By the time I realized this — after dinner — it was too late to change rooms. The next day the woman who works for them — MUCH better at customer service than they are — and I looked for a suitable room, and we had to go through THREE before we found one with a working chain.)
So… I checked the weather report for the next day at the Grand Canyon the night I arrived, and it said rain… eek… then checked again the day of, this time specifying the South Rim (which is where the train goes) and it said no rain… phew!! NOTE: It’s important to remember the Grand Canyon is a VERY big place, so when checking the weather, be specific for which part.
With the Train Ride, come a whole package of entertainments. The first happens BEFORE the ride and is cute… I THINK the whole point of it is actually a ploy to make sure customers are on site and ready to go a good 45 minutes before the train leaves… but still…it adds to the ‘ambiance’
Looking around at the audience, I at first thought there may be one person in this whole crowd under the age of 40, But then I took that back … I just spotted a baby. That said, it was late September and most kids were in school, so the crowd consisted mostly of retirees who prefer to come to places like this when they are LESS crowded. It’s a cute show, funny even, more than a few good laughs. You can tell the actors have done this may be 1000 times but they’re not phoning it in
After seeing the show myself, and many days later… I watched this video and I guess the attitude of the organizers is, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” because in spite of the fact that I saw the show almost six years after this YouTube video was posted — this is almost word for word the same show I saw, just with different actors.
The actors do a bit of improve around what the audience does or does not do, and the audience member roped into the skit, but otherwise, I saw the exact same show. (They even found a guy wearing shorts who had a bag… albeit this bag was backpack)
And after the show, that’s when you’re led by the actors to the train, and you line up by the car you’re assigned to…
And this is where things got wonky. So the deal is this…. APPARENTLY if you sign up for the Pullman (which is the most affordable ticket) they tell you to show up at 8:30 like everybody else, for what you think will be a 9:15 departure… but you won’t actually Leave until 10:00. IF they get a lot of people showing up, they’re going to break it up into two trains (according to the manager this is on behest of the park which doesn’t want a boat load of people showing up at once. He said they could easily put everyone on one train). Everybody who bought a ticket on the expensive cars — the ones with the observation bubbles on top of the train for better viewing…. and the MOST expensive cars which are old-fashioned luxury (but with air-conditioning), have a buffet and dedicated performers who are there just for you — THOSE trains… they’ll leave on time … Those of us with tickets that have air-conditioning but no bubble up top, or those like me who purchased a Pullman car with no air-con…. they’ll leave you standing around and waiting for the second train (and there was NOTHING on my tickets denoting that).
You do however get the same amount of time at the park because your return train also leaves later. That said, once we were on the train, it was actually very pleasant… first a guy comes on, and makes sure you understand all the thing you need to know
Then we were introduced to our carriage’s aid, the girl in the blue and white outfit, and the photographer (the guy in the red shirt with the massive camera, whose job it is to wander between carriages taking photos on first leg of the trip, and then he tries to sell you your photos on our return one).
While the downsides of being in the cheap Pullman car is that it goes last (leaving the station) and has no air-conditioning, the upsides are that one, it’s always placed directly adjacent to the dining car (they told me this when I was booking the trip)
Although this also means everyone in the cars behind us has to pass through us to get to said dining car… for their drinks, snacks and ice-cream
The other benefit… and this is the more important one I think… is that sitting in an old-fashioned Pullman with no aircon traveling through almost wild country it’s really easy to almost feel like you’ve drifted back in time to when train, horse or foot were your only options for getting out west … a mental fantasy that the more modern trains don’t really support.
On the way to the Canyon we were serenaded by this young musician, who wasn’t bad
And then on the way back (when we were all really pooped) we were played at by this guy
Who was trying just a bit too hard to get us to be clapping our hand and tapping our feet, when all we really wanted to do was rest…
Towards the end of the ride to the Canyon we passed an area that had clearly had a forest fire, which made me wonder how it’d happened and if it were the fault of the train, or the people on it.
And then right as we were approaching the park, our carriage’s aide (the gal in the blue and white outfit) began to tell us things like, that the red ponderosa pines that grown in the park have a scent. If you smell vanilla, than the tree is a female but if you smell butterscotch, the tree is male. (I never managed to get close enough to one to test it) That, and there’s a $500 fine for feeding the animals … even if it’s a squirrel who stole it from you .. and that we should all beware because they WILL steal your food if you let them.
And THIS is what you get to avoid by taking the train
That said, the ride back was also very pretty,
and the rain that the first weather report I had looked at promised, could be seen approaching us in the distance
But it included rainbows, which made me happy….
(and in fact greeted us as with a very light rain just as we arrived back in Williams, which got more intense later in the evening).
Towards the very end of the ride, we had a last bit of excitement… there’s a train heist… it’s actually kind of cute
(My video this time… Note how the train obligingly stops for the 2 riders )
But somehow, even though there were TWO riders attacking the train, and TWO gunmen stealing from us… somehow one of them managed to be in two places at the same time (note: two horses carrying two gunmen, two gunmen stealing from us… yet one left over to take care of the horses… this happened how?)
And then you’re ever so politely robbed. (They threaten to take your stuff, but never do.) We were instructed (by our conductor lady in the blue outfit) that if we wanted to we were supposed to take any money we wanted them to actually rob, and fold it and hold it out for them to take, which a few of the customers did… tips in other-words.
And then a little later (after the thieves have had time to get all the way to the back of the train, where apparently the guy who plays the sheriff was waiting to arrest them (it’s a shame that only THAT car gets to see the arrest) he waltzes them back through the train to the front, and we all get to laugh about how law and order triumphs.
Before I got someone to take our photo, the guy with the long white hair, who plays the sheriff, turns out he’s actually Dutch, has spent some time living in Japan, and speaks 9 languages at least a enough to get by… I didn’t get around to finding out how it ended up here doing this.
One thing to beware of… on the train, while you’re close to town WiFi is pretty decent, and from time to time it’ll pop back up…. but at the park and for most of the ride you can forget about connectivity. As such, save your battery and just put you phone on airplane mode to save the battery. This is especially true at the Park… Even though there is signal, you just can’t connect to it because TOO many people are also trying.
Located just off of Route 66 in either Peach Springs Arizona (according to their website) or Seligman, Arizona (according to Google) is a rather unique tourist trap that’s kind of hard to explain because it can’t really make up its mind what it is.
The first thing you’ll encounter is a gas station/laundromat and gift store that calls itself Radiator Springs and claims to be the inspiration for Pixar Movie of the same name. (I have NOT found any external verification of that claim)
what I was interested in was NOT the gas station, although it was a little cute, what I had come for was about a mile behind the building, via a private road
there, above ground, you’ll find a restaurant, motel called the Caverns Inn & RV park, Restaurant and gift-store… but I didn’t take a lot of pictures of that cause it wasn’t what I was there for…
In 1927, Walter Peck, a cowboy and woodcutter was walking through this area on his way to a poker game, when he nearly fell into a hole in the ground. The next morning Peck and his friends returned to the hole with lanterns and ropes. Peck was lowered into the hole. He purchased the property and began making preparations for a gold mining operation. Once the assay reports were completed, he learned that his potential mother load was iron oxide. Peck, being an entrepreneur then began charging 25 cents to lower early travelers and explorers down into the caverns. Today travelers worldwide come to visit these dry caverns
What I was there for, were the aforementioned underground caverns… and more specifically, to eat in the underground restaurant and see the motel (but no I did not stay the night, it costs $975/night. Too rich for my tastes.)
So there I sat, in the Grand Canyon caverns eating one very expensive grilled chicken sandwich, which was at best, ok… I asked around and pretty much everyone was underwhelmed with their food.
But, of course what you’re paying for is the view, and the experience
I suppose it would have been cheaper if I drank cause you can have 2 glasses of wine, and it comes with all-you-can-eat dessert. But I don’t drink, and I’ve finally managed to lower my blood sugar, and I had places to be later that day… so I must definitely did NOT get my money’s worth in terms of the cost of lunch… in my own opinion. But it was worth doing once… and after lunch came the tour
At this point we ran into a 2nd family which was doing the more “challenging” tour. They were actually climbing through tunnels in the walls, and we ran into them as they were climbing up through one of these deep gaps. (They were wearing helmets with built-in lamps, like what miners wear.)
And then we watched them climbing UP a staircase that later in the tour we’d be going down (we would ultimately be going up to that same point, but via a gentle twisting slope so that you barely notice it), … in other words our tour was negotiated so as to limit our level of physical effort, while this other group was being made to do it in the most demanding ways possible
This is when we got to see the hotel room in the Cavern….
This is a location where they hold weddings, it is up the slope from the hotel room (a little stage and rows of seating; if you look past the stage area you see the big screen TV very clearly, and the wall that it’s held up by is for privacy in the bathroom…
Much Later, after we finally came back DOWN the stairway the others had gone up, (I’m jumping forward, but will cut back after) we were led to the opposite side of this same ‘auditorium’ where we saw these…
The chairs used for 60 years in the American Film Institute in Hollywood and when they replaced, the caverns bought them. So your guests at your wedding can sit in chairs that MAY have had very famous movie stars and directors sitting in them at one point.
So, back to the tour…. After we first saw the hotel room and the wedding venue, we walked along the path to the Fall-out Shelter storage area of the cavern.
We walked through the winding paths of the cavern, and came to a low ceiling point where everyone but me had to stoop to pass it… the d
The mystery room (upper right corner, above) is called as such because fresh air comes into the cave, but scientists have not been able to verify how. They do know it is coming in from there… but not how it’s getting into there… hence the mystery. There are apparently special tours you can take that take like 5 hours, where you can go spelunking into that part of the cave…. but it’s only for serious caving people
Once we got up to the top we began to going down, via a path that took us OVER the stored supplies for the fall-out shelter
Apparently when they brought in the pallets, they forgot to measure the size of the pallets versus the size of the entrances… and found they had to take all the supplies OFF them, bring them in, then reload them back on to them.
At the end of the tour, which took a little over an hour …. the Dutch visitors who were in my tour group started telling me how much they loved Trump, and how they’d have voted for them if they were Americans…
This motel is a classic Route 66 experience … but that said, DEAR LORD!!! What a dump!! That said I am SO glad that my first experience with WigWam Motels (all three of which are registered on the National Register of Historic Places) was in San Bernardino, CA and not this one in Holbrook. That one made me very happy, this one pissed me off so badly by comparison that after I inspected the room and checked the wifi, I asked for a refund and a found a MUCH nicer room for $10 less someplace else in town.
I’m willing to bet this owner spends on classic cars to park on his property what the other owner in California spends on repair and upkeep of the rooms.
In a way I got lucky. Normally I would check in, unpack my stuff, get into the bed, fire up my computer and THEN check into the wifi. This time, just as I was checking in a nice Chinese guy (I ran into him again at a restaurant) who was booked into one of the other TeePee’s came into the office complaining that he couldn’t connect to the wifi. He said it worked fine in the office — the woman had told him to connect there first, THEN go back to the room… but counter to what she’d told him… not in the room. So I logged in, walked outside and towards my room… and sure enough the wifi died. She said “well you need to go INTO the teepee cause those are concrete and we have extenders in each room.” Ok fine… I go into my room and see there is in fact a wifi modem there… try to log in and get “wrong password” — even checked the bottom of the thing to see if listed a different one… but no… that and I looked around the room and it clearly had NOT been kept up with the same loving care I’d seen in San Bernardino.
While I didn’t take any photos in the bathroom, the tile was cracked, the shower had a dinky curtain (the CA one had installed a class door) and compared to the one in CA looked worn (exact same layout as you can see) AND, of course, the WiFi if it did work was inaccessible and WORST of all, the woman working the desk didn’t seem to care.
I met my neighbors and they too were all complaining about the WiFi. You could connect in the office but when you tried to connect in the rooms either it said wrong password OR, from the one woman who HAD been able to log in, it was insanely slow.
Like I said the woman running the joint didn’t care so since I’d not unpacked or even sat on the bed, I asked for a refund and booked at the local Travel Lodge which had unusually high reviews for $10 a night less… got there to find it was clean, no bed bugs and 34 Mbps downloads and 20 Mbps uploads… (a bit small and cramped, but like I said, well-kept up, blazing fast wifi, and nice caring people working the front desk).
I did however come back the next day for more pictures because the BEST part of this hotel is the experience you have OUTSIDE of the rooms… which is free. And just like the other Wigwam, this one was reflexive of the Disney/Pixar Movie “Cars” — a cartoon you SHOULD know if only because it was nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Animated Feature and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Anyone who’s seen it KNOWS that it’s animators were clearly influenced by many of the iconic Route 66 locations in the Southwest, which include either this motel, or the one other Teepee motel located in Holbrook, Arizona (where I’m also going to be sleeping in about a week) in the creation of the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie
From what I read, because the Radiator Springs in the movie is supposedly limited to Route 66 locations from Kansas to Arizona, THIS WigWam lays claim to being the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie and at Disneyland.
Normally I don’t do post scripts but this was too funny. When I was in Santa Fe visiting with an old friend from grade school who lives there, I was talking about my trip and mentioned my two WigWam bookings… how much I loved the one in San Bernardino and then as I mentioned this one in Holbrook my friend’s girlfriend jumped in with, “That place is a DUMP!” to which I agreed whole heartedly. She’s never stayed in the CA one, but went on at length about how much she’d hated her stay here.
First opened in 1949, this motel is a classic Route 66 experience that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s the sort of thing they used to build in the late 40’s that they just don’t anymore. Of the seven initially built, only three are still in operation, and this is the only one in California. The price is highly affordable (although there are cheaper places to stay in town) and in my opinion well worth doing — at least once in your life, just so that you can say you did.
Just checked into this historic Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino/Rialto — the address says Rialto but my car’s GPS said San Bernardino and it couldn’t find the street address in Rialto… so be warned. (A mind blower is that GOOGLE has it listed twice, once in Rialto and once in San Bernardino).
That and this is a family owned business and they don’t stay open overnight, so if you’re NOT able to be there by 8pm you MUST call them and give them an ETA, and if it’s NOT at a reasonable hour — OR you don’t call, they might give your room away to someone else.
That said,WOW! The rooms are cute! Granted they’re a lot cuter on the outside than on their insides, but I understand why the association gave them an award, they really have tried to keep the units up to date as much as possible without destroying their charm, and in good repair.
And when I first tested the wifi at around 9pm, it’s was 76.58 Mbps download and 25.57 upload .. that’s BLAZING fast. I don’t know of ANY hotels that offer speeds like that. I tested it a 2nd time at around 11pm and 166.74 download (TWICE as fast) with essentially no change in the upload. That said, the place was built in the 40’s, so there’s no electricity in the bathrooms — this was normal then, water and electricity not being a great mix.
One of the things I found kind of cute (and a bit smart) was how reflexive the place is to the Disney/Pixar Movie “Cars” — a cartoon you SHOULD know if only because it was nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Animated Feature and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Anyone who’s seen it KNOWS that it’s animators were clearly influenced by many of the iconic Route 66 locations in the Southwest, which include either this motel, or the one other Teepee motel located in Holbrook, Arizona (where I’m also going to be sleeping in about a week) in the creation of the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie
To ‘promote’ the point, if you will… they’ve parked a bunch of old un-drivable classic cars around the property.
The Cozy Cone can also be found be found in the Pixar “Radiator Springs” section in Disneyland’s California Adventure Park, as I discovered when I was there.
Ignore the jack’o’lantern touches… I was there during the park’s Halloween period, and the black eyes and mouths are all temporary/removable appliqués added for the holiday (along with the black widow spider dropping down from the electric pole.
I found this cool little video about the place back from 2013 that includes an interview with a guy who I assume was the owner at the time.
Katoomba is a cute but small town, located about an hour and a half by car from Sydney (or 2.5 hours by train) about 2 kilometers from one of Australia’s natural wonders (which I of course was visiting), whose major industry is tourism. It’s a lot less tourist-trappy than most towns of this sort, while still having a sort of enough to keep visitors happy.
NOTE: I’m writing this blog post well AFTER the fact. I was In Katoomba from January 12th to 18th of 2018 — about 5 months ago. BUT, because of the massive concussion I suffered only one week later, on Jan 25th… I have fallen woefully behind on the posts for that the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) I am taking the opportunity to rectify that…
The downtown area begins, essentially, at the top of a VERY steep hill, where it runs a bit alongside the rail road tracks, and then extends about a half mile South, down hill, in the direction of the natural attractions. (Other than a local movie theater, there’s little of any interest to none locals on the north side of the tracks).
Getting around: And of course I am ASSUMING you don’t have a car… if you do you can just skip this part
Getting from Sydney to Katoomba by train is actually a rather easy and enjoyable ride (see blog post). One of the things to remember is that IF you’ve already been in Sydney over the course of a week, and have actively been using the rail systems “Opal” transit card, once you have used it for eight trips in the course of one week (Monday to Sunday) you to qualify for 50% off on all trips for the rest of that week… including the price of the rail trip out to Katoomba and back.
That said, while there are also some bus routes you can take from the station to get you to your Airbnb or hotel, most of them stop running around 6pm … which I learned the hard way, when I arrived on a 6:30 pm train and ended up having to drag my heavy suitcase the 20 minutes it took to walk (almost a full mile) to my Airbnb… Luckily it was all down hill or I would broken into tears (the Airbnb host had COMPLETELY neglected to mention that fact in spite of my having told her what train I would be arriving on).
That said, I soon learned (not from her) that there are TWO 24 hour taxi services which will pick you up from pretty much anywhere, and run you home (I STRONGLY suggest keeping their phone numbers with you). The one you’re most likely going to be using is the Wentworth Falls Taxi, +61 (0)2 4782 1311; as the other, Blue Mountains Maxi Taxi, specializes in large wheelchair accessible vans that can accommodate up to nine passengers, +61 423 890 670, although they’re perfectly happy to pick up just one. Places to eat:
First off, this place is TINY and popular. As such, unless you come on a non-vacation weekday and get very lucky… you WILL need a reservation (call +61 405 402 130) The time I opted for the basic home-style dishes my ex-boyfriend’s mother used to make regularly… Mandu-guk (it’s a dumpling soup) and Japchae (which they spelled japjae)… I also ordered Kimchi, as this is the first Korean place I’ve ever been too that does NOT include the obligatory Banchanside dishes for free… and an order of Ginger Tea. That said, if you look at the reviews on Trip advisor, and pay attention to the ethnicity of the writers, you’ll see the western customers seemed to be way more enamored with the place than the Koreans (did I mention no obligatory Banchan?). For myself, the Madu-guk and Japchae were fine (they are two kind of hard to screw up dishes) but the Kimchi is SO incredibly mild that I could not smell it, or taste any of the red pepper.
For those who don’t get what I’m talking about, proper Kimchi should STINK, and at least mildly burn your mouth with the heat of the pepper. I had a Korean roommate back in college who initially kept a small bottle of Kimchi in our fridge, which because of the layout of the dorm room was in the same tiny room as our closets… we quickly banned the practice and forced her to keep it downstairs in the dorm room of some other Korean girls, because the stink had passed through the refrigerator’s walls and all of our clothes were suffering from Aux-d’kimchi. Additionally — keep in mind I lived in South Korea for almost three years while working as a professor, one of the first signs that I was back ‘home’ after spending some time in the States visiting my other home, was walking into an EMPTY elevator and being accosted by the scent of the Kimchi that some previous occupant had left behind (usually sweated out, like an alcoholic’s stench, or way too much cologne)
This restaurant would have been worth trying if only because it’s a piece of Australian history.
It was the countries oldest continually serving Cafe (101 years when I went), the place is quaint beyond belief and is like a walk back in history to the 1900’s.
That said, I thought the food here was ok, WOEFULLY overpriced, and in spite of that nothing to write home about (the fact that it was struggling was therefore not a surprise). If you look closely at this menu (below) you’ll know what I ordered.
When I finally spotted this place, located at the far south-east corner of the downtown area I decided that I was in love; This is a former church that for lack of congregants was converted into a cafe, that surrounds a gingerbread house/shop devoted to all things ginger!! (And as my friends know I LOVE ginger.)
While there I found what may be the ultimate ginger drink, it’s called Rochester Ginger and (according to the company), it’s recipe is based on one made by Dickens himself … which I would happily drink regularly but for the fact that it’s $9.40 for a small bottle, about as pricy as wine … when I got home I found Amazon has it for slightly more. … By the way 1 cup = 236 ml, so this stuff is a bit over 177 calories a cup (while Coke is about 96 calories a cup)
they also had me try this organic ginger ale assuring me I would love it, but it was blah.
There was also a ginger flavored Turkish Delight which was ok, but after the Rochester everything paled.
Based on the amount of business they do, this restaurant located not far from the train station seemed to me to be one of the most popular places in town. Their “specials” didn’t seem to change much Kangaroo burgers and pancakes with ice cream), and what finally drew me in was the burger. (Not my first taste of ‘skippy‘, which is what all the locals seem to call it, that was at Pins On Lurline, an upscale restaurant located outside of the downtown distract in what was once a private home … hence not included in this blog)
The burger was less a burger than a sliced meat sandwich, with little rounds of kangaroo meat… not all that tasty and very chewy. While sitting there waiting for my food, I spotted this girl sitting next to me. I asked her if it was alright for me to take the picture and she allowed it…
The picture is completely untouched … the light was just perfect … and I of course allowed her to send a copy of it to herself.
Carrington Hotel Let’s hear it for hotels that could not afford to update their facilities, until the fact that they had not becomes they’re selling point. Looking at the Carrington it’s pretty clear that’s the reality.
I of course don’t know this for sure but after walking around the place I’m willing to take a bet that once the building was old enough to qualify for a World heritage landmark listing, and restoration funds that come with it, that that was probably the first time since 1927 that any serious renovations of the property happened…. and we should all be grateful because walking through its doors is like stepping back in time. According to Wikipedia it’s the only 19th century grand hotel still in use in all of New South Wales.
This massive hotel property is located right in the downtown area, a meer steps away from the train station.
The Yellow Deli
The interior is VERY cute and Hobbit-warren like, and every food program (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc) ranked it as the most popular eatery in town (must number of reviews, with almost all of the people giving it positive votes).
I had arrived in Katoomba on a Friday night, and was mystified to find this place closed, but once I finally stepped inside I understand why. Every single man working there had a beard, a pigtail and was wearing very similar natural fiber clothes; That and the fact that women were all dressed akin to Mormons in terms of coverage, sent off a bell in my brain saying, “this is a restaurant owned by a cult.”
So I asked, and it turned out they’re a religious group founded in Chattanooga Tennessee. They keep sabbath Friday night to Saturday…. like Jews, but they are not vegetarians like the 7th day Adventists (of whom there are many in the Chattanooga area)… at least based on the menu of what they were serving. They only believe in the old testament not the New Testament but don’t consider themselves to be Jewish… but rather they consider themselves to be Christians. The guy I spoke to, the manager, who was VERY excited that I had keyed into the cues that they were probably a religious group and asking about their beliefs, gave me a bunch of reading material
All that said, they make a very good Carob hot chocolate.
I really liked this place, I liked it enough that I ordered their fresh watermelon & ginger drink more than few times. You tell them what you want, and they throw the ingredients in a blender and serve it up.
Let’s assume that you are a major Disney fan who has probably never been to Japan before and your number one priority on this trip is to visit Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea, because you a have to see ALL the Disney parks… but you ALSO want to see Tokyo! So, that said: Where do you stay?
In short, the answer is to find lodgings as near as possible to Tokyo Station. Look for either hotels, and/or (if you want to save money) any of the many Airbnbs that are an easy walk to the JR line’s Tokyo station, on what I like to refer to as the green circle (i.e., Yamanote) line. (If you want a GOOD and cheap Airbnb in that neighborhood, and I’m talking under $67/night for your own apartment, there are more than few, but you’ll need to book well in advance, and by that I mean months.)
I strongly suggest doing this rather than staying at any of the Disney Resort hotels out in Urayasu City, next to the JR Maihama Station which is located directly adjacent to Tokyo Disneyland (but which is NOT Tokyo). Here’s why….
Firstly, Tokyo is NOT Orlando, and while Orlando might not have much to draw you away from the Disney parks, Tokyo does. That said, Tokyo station sits right in the center of historic Tokyo; it is just east of the government buildings, the Emperor’s Palace, and it is an easy walk away from the Ginza, which is just south of it (i.e., wedged firmly between the historic and the modern);
Additionally, the station sits at the nexus of the red Marunouchi Line, which will take you directly to Tokyo Disney, and the green Yamanote line, which will take you to pretty much everywhere else that you as a tourist might want to go while in Tokyo. And while from the above map, Tokyo might not look so big, the reality is from Shinjuku (the station on the far left of the circle, and also one of the major Tokyo hotspots) to Disney by train will cost close to $4, and take you a good 40 minutes to an hour of travel time, where as from Tokyo station to Disney is a short 15 minute hop that costs all of around $2.20. And will drop you off a five minute walk from the front gates of Disneyland.
To get to DisneySea is a good 20 minutes walk through the adjacent mall and past multiple parking lots, so I STRONGLY suggest changing train lines at that point and buying a ticket for the Disney only line that circles the park (unlike at the Magic Kingdom, here transportation within the kingdom is not free).
And, as I will discuss in more detail later in this post, Tokyo station is an attraction in and of itself.
Let’s face it, Orlando is essentially a midsized American town with a population of only around 270+ thousand, making it only the 73rd largest city (out of 19,354 “incorporated places”) in the country. While established in 1875 (mostly as a farming town near which rich people from northern cities, like Chicago, went to spend their winters after the first highways were built — and hence still has some nice historic homes from that period in the adjacent suburbs, like the aptly named Winter Park), the whole of the Orlando greater metropolitan area (population 2,387,138 million) does not in fact, other than some good food and a TON of amusement parks have much going for it. In fact, of that population 32.4% of the inhabitants, a 2003 study found, owe their employment to the Disney parks; and this number does NOT include the jobs created by Universal, Sea World, etc. The whole area really doesn’t have ALL that much to offer in the way of history and/or culture; granted, there’s a decent ballet, some local theater groups (made up of mostly park employees yearning to be noticed by Broadway or Hollywood), a tiny handful of museums (if you don’t include tourist traps like chocolate museums) but really not much. Yes it is one of the entertainment capitols of the world, with an unusually VAST number of amusement park options within its metropolitan area, and hence an equally large selection of top of the line restaurants drawn there to feed the affluent locals, and tourists who want to eat outside of the parks; but I mean really, how many people go to the Orlando area for their vacation, and even bother stepping foot in downtown Orlando’s museums (let alone Kissimmee proper) or even know that those historic homes are even there? Let alone do any of them care? In fact, till Disney, in the mid 1960’s surreptitiously decided to buy up land in order to build his 2nd Disney park in the undeveloped areas between Orlando, Florida and Kissimmee, most people had never heard of the place. So if you go to Orlando, really… most visitors want to be on or right near the parks, because that is what they come for as a tourists.
Tokyo is not that, this is FRIGGING Tokyo! Tokyo’s history dates back to the late twelfth century, and has been the capital city of Japan since 1868. Historically it’s one of the largest and oldest and yet most modern cities on the planet, with a city population of 9.2+ MILLION (versus Orlando’s 270,934 thousand), with a greater metropolitan population of 13 million (to Orlando’s 2.4+ million)! In fact since 1968, it has been the world’s largest city. In terms of culture and history, it’s up there with London & Paris, let alone New York City, for criminy sakes!! It’s one of the best, most most modern, most exciting cities in the whole world with some of the best food on the planet (in Tokyo the bar is raised so high that even places like Denny’s are forced to be better than they would be here in the US)! So, as much as I LOVE me my Disney, if you come to Tokyo and don’t take some time to see Tokyo, especially if you’re someone whose not already very well aquainted with the place … then I’m sorry to say it, but something is seriously wrong with you.
Now granted, the Disney corporation wants you to stay at one of their hotels, or at least at one of the non-Disney owned hotels located on what is ostensibly their Island…. and of course that is an option. There are a HUGE number of hotels options scattered around the island, and in the case of DisneySea, there is one that is essentially inside the park. And you could, if that’s what you want to do, come to Tokyo Disney and JUST see all of what is on offer within the Disney bubble. The Hotels are of course very nice, and have a lot of nice amenities — as is ALWAYS true for Disney properties
And Disney has built a fairly large mall called Ikspiari (similar to Disney Springs) with over a hundred businesses (shops, restaurants, a food court, etc.,) as well as a 16 screen movie theater, that is attached to the train line that links Disneyland and DisneySea.
And by the way, if you go to DisneySea, even though you could walk everywhere, you will REALLY DO want to buy a ticket for the special Disney train extension, in part because it kind of rocks.
but mostly because, while it’s an easy five-minute walk from Maihama station to Disneyland, it’s a good 20 minute+ walk from there to Disney Sea… and who in the heck wants to do that at the end of along day at the park?
… but the reality is if you stay at the Disney resort, while you’re very close to Disney and save maybe a 40 min total in commute time per day (depending on how long it takes you to walk from your hotel to Tokyo Station)… there’s really not anywhere near as much to do out there as there is in Tokyo proper. And if you have never been to Toyko, even just the walk from your hotel to the train, or hanging out for a late night bite (the park and the mall essentially close around 10pm, while Tokyo is a 24 hour town) after returning from the park, will give you a taste of the place. In fact, you could easily spend a full day just exploring the maze that is Tokyo train station, because with its two hotels, art museum, multiple department stores and independent shops… and lord knows how many restaurants, it arguably has way more to offer than Disney’s tiny Ikspiari does.
For those who don’t know, Tokyo Disneyland is located on what at this point is mostly an artificially constructed island that sits in Tokyo Bay. While there’s always been a small island in the area, which is the Edo River’s delta, that previously held a tiny fishing village, the reality is that island was greately expanded through the creative use of garbage. There are in fact a whole series of these constructed islands in the bay, and ALL of them are essentially Tokyo’s Garbage dump. Once you get outside of the resort, what you’ll find is a small sleepy bedroom community for those who either work at the parks, or can’t afford to live in Tokyo proper, i.e., not much. You’re really, in my own opinion, better off staying near Tokyo station.
This is a blog post I will update regularly based on changing conditions: (Last update, April 2018)
I am NOT your average Airbnb customer, I’m a woman in her 50’s on a tight budget (I can afford about $70/night on average) who lives the Airbnb lifestyle, which is a bit like the RV retirement lifestyle but without the RV…. and I’ve been doing it pretty much non stop since June of 2015. So my NEEDS and concerns are different than that of some kid in his or her 20’s, most of whom would be perfectly happy with an air-mattress on the floor if the price was cheap enough. The point of this blog post is to try and help out other people around my age who are considering using the far more affordable airbnb’s rather than relying on hotels.
Quick list (see below for explanations:
FIRST: Set up your profile to INCLUDE YOUR NEEDS and EXPECTATIONS (odds are the owners will rarely bother to read it, but should issues arise it helps to protect you when dealing with disputes)… then search for homes:
When searching for homes be SURE to put in not just dates, but home type (whole apartment, spare bedroom in an occupied home, or willingness to SHARE a bedroom) and what amenities you’re expecting.
STUDY the pictures carefully, never assume anything these are homes not hotel rooms … if the window is high up, ask about their elevator or be prepared for 5th floor walk up
Read all the reviews! ALL of them… and if there are no reviews be very very careful
when booking well in advance NEVER book a Strict booking… actually avoid strict as much as possible.
Communicate with the owner BEFORE booking.
Leave an honest review to help the next person… the same way you hoped they were leaving honest reviews for you
IF you are someone who NEEDS air conditioning, and they say they have it… DON’T TRUST THAT!!! I Promise you, odds are they don’t have central air or an aircon that’s in your bedroom. It’s going to be in their living room, which is down the hall and around the corner from your bedroom but directly adjacent to theirs. So yes the house has one, you just won’t benefit from it.
Back in 2014 folks the media started talking about the Airbnb lifestyle, people who rather than renting one apartment for year at a time, rents them for weeks or months at a time. Folks did this for one of two reasons, either either: A) they were bouncing around the various neighborhoods of a new city where they now worked as they got to know the area, allowing them the opportunity to make an educated decision about where they would like to settle, or B) they were part of the new internet driven working class whose office/factory for work is a computer linked to the internet via a reliable high speed connection … and therefore can essentially be ANYWHERE in the world.
First step: Setting up your profile to include your needs expectations
No really, your first step shouldn’t be looking for places to rent, it really should be setting up your profile. And while there should be a short description of you (I list my areas of education, previous jobs, hobbies, etc… as well as the fact that while I’m very outgoing and friendly I tend to hole up in my room with my computer for hours on end)… the focus (in my own opinion), should be on what your expecting from them.
Take the time to really craft out a description of yourself and list out your expectations of any place you rent. Let’s be honest, MOST owners won’t bother to take the time to read it, but SOME will; and, if your description clearly stated your various requirements its then ON THEM if their place doesn’t meet them. (It will help you out later when dealing with airbnb corporate if there are any disputes, if you have done this.)
List what you need, and why you need it: This should include allergies, mobility issues, and or if you have diet restrictions and or medications which mean you WILL be needing kitchen access, even if you won’t be cooking…. etc. Do you expect the room to be smoke free?? This isn’t a motel, this is not restricted by the laws that obligate smoke free zones. This is someone’s home. Are you someone who lives on your computer devices (like me) and expects to be able to charge 5 items at once but doesn’t have space in your suitcase for power strips with 6 foot cords? Because believe me, some of these places won’t be set up to support that if you don’t don’t warn them, they won’t even have a spare power strip in the house (unlike hotels).
Do you prefer to work at a desk or in bed propped up by lots of pillows? (If the latter, makes sure to warn them because I’ve come across more than few who will give you one pillow and not understand the problem.)
So really think about your habits and needs, and where should the plugs/power points be relative to bed or desk? Things like that…. and communicate that.
Anyone who spends time at Professional hotels knows that they are actually pretty much set up for all possibilities in these regards, but airbnb homes are not (although they should be). In fact, to my experience, with the exception of Superhosts, most airbnb hosts when they start out are pretty clueless that the reason pretty much every hotel room on the planet now includes a mini fridge is as much for medication storage as an opportunity to sell tiny bottles of booze at obscene prices. If they ever went to a good, four star hotel room, and really bothered to pay attention to what’s in there and asked themselves why things are where they are relative to other objects in the room and replicated that in their airbnb’s… they’d all have 4 star airbnb’s. But they don’t… they’re like my old students who did “C” level work and expect me to give them an “A” grade for it, and throw tantrums when they don’t get it.
So makes sure you state your expectations clearly and give the owner (whose job it is to host you like an honored guest) the chance to meet those needs… and assume they’re clueless teenagers, because a lot of them are.
So, as an example of what I write: I’m allergic to fur, so in mine I write: “I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE cats and dogs, and have had multiple pets in the past; that said, I learned the hard way that I’m a bit allergic to them; so, if your space has decent ventilation and it is kept clean of fur and dander not a problem (PLEASE remember to vacuum under the bed). However, If my bed is where they love to hang out and sleep when no one is there, please warn me.”
Over the course of that time I’ve stayed at a handful of Airbnb’s run by folks who either did not take the JOB (and it is a job) of being an Airbnb host seriously, or suffered some “blindness” in what it means to host an older person with even the MILDEST of mobility issues, etc., ones that are understood as NORMAL to anyone my age. So, while there is definitely a market for super-affordable Airbnb rentals that are only an air mattress on the floor, I am definitively NOT their target customer. As such, I’ve learned it’s safer to explicitly state rather than assume my (reasonable) expectations, just like I used to have to do with students, and list the things that I assume owners will provide, based on the sort of stay at their homes that I will be doing.
SO, My List is VERY LONG and detailed:
RECENTLY Airbnb has added accessibility descriptions, but the reality is Airbnb has not OBLIGATED owners to make fill them in (as in we won’t post the site unless the you have made these changes in your site’s description) and as such most owners who’ve been on the airbnb for a while have NOT bothered to fill it out, or worse don’t because they don’t want the hassle of having anyone with any sort of disability in their home …. and as a result, if you do check any of them, you’re severely limiting the number of homes you’ll be shown
In my book, there are two types of stays: short-term and long-term stays:
Short term/overnight, etc:
Parking: If I am road tripping OBVIOUSLY I need someplace to put the car. Some owners can be quite the little shits when it comes to this. Airbnb has “free parking on premises” as a search variable, so make sure you click it if you need it before looking at what’s available … but that said, BY THEIR OWN ADMISSION all this means is free street parking near the rental even though BY LAW this is NOT a correct interpretation of the term because on the property (which you own) does not mean on the street (which you don’t) … and some owners, in spite of this, will even consider street parking where you need to jump out of bed at 8am to move it every 2 hours until 9pm to be “free parking on premises” … when clearly it’s NOT in the mind of any person doing the renting … so be CLEAR about your needs and expectations. And if you’re driving something that’s hard to park, such as having a trailer in tow, be clear about that. And while on a short term/overnight stay I can happily live out of my suitcase if I have to, even in that case I’ll assume they have
Fast reliable Wi-Fi: and in my case this is a non-negotiable. This means, a minimum of 5mbps/per user (the slowest speed necessary for normal low definition streaming and regular usage ….. while 20 mbps/user is suggested for high definition TV/films, and is of course greatly preferred, I do not expect it). But here’s the thing, a lot of owners don’t get the “PER USER” part… they’ve got 10mbps and their home has two parents, any number of kids, and then you the person renting the airbnb… and don’t understand why your frustrated that you can’t stream your favorite show in your bedroom since it’s working just fine in their living room where they’re sitting and watching Netflix — while their kids are probably in their bedrooms streaming music.I make a point of being clear with the owners of just what my internet usage is… I expect to be able to stream all my shows, but other than uploading some pictures to from my camera to the cloud, I don’t do a lot upstream traffic. Some people do, and if you need decent upstream be honest about it.
Air-conditioning, and/or a fan: I am an overweight woman in her 50’s and am in menopause, which means I will SUFFER when trying to sleep at temps above 75F/23C the way a normal person would in a 90F/32C degree bedroom; and, even at 75F degrees or cooler, I need a fan on me (unless it is cooler than 67F/19C). It’s kind of ridiculous that I have to say this, but I find that have to remind them that if they have a ceiling fan/lamp combo, to please make sure the cords are long enough that a shorter person can reach them, as I’ll want to have the fan on at night, but the light off, and I’m too old and unstable to be climbing up on beds and chairs to do it. Part of the problem is age bias, YOUNG airbnb owners who can just pop up on the bed and reach up to the cords (or are tall enough to do it themselves) can’t conceive of a future where their legs no longer support that sort of activity… and can actually be really intolerant of mobility issues in the folks who rent from them. So be clear.While Airbnb is STARTING to hint to owners that they should include mobility access issues, most owners just don’t “get it” unless they themselves have “experienced it”, or if their own aged grandmother comes by and bitches at them about it.
An easily accessible bathroom: or better yet en-suite if I can get it (I’m at that age where I stagger eyes half open to the bathroom multiple times a night). This is however negotiable as long as the bathroom is very easy to get to, i.e., there are no stairs or steps, or things I could trip over on the way there, and the distance is short enough that I don’t have to fully wake up to do it. Let’s face it when you’re in your 50’s sleeping is hard enough to do as it is, and if I have to do any of that to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night I’ll have a hell of a time getting back to sleep.
A WORKING, 3 pronged/or grounded electrical outlet located directly adjacent to the bed: You’d think this was a no brainer but it’s not. I work in bed propped up by multiple pillows, with one shoved under my neck to support my head, and I DO NOT want to have cords blocking my ability to move around safely. (I travel by car, with my own power-strips of varying lengths, if necessary). But have on occasion been boggled that I had to explain to an owner that old-fashioned two pronged/non-grounded outlet is really only acceptable (in this day and age) for lamps, and is absolutely NOT OK for sensitive electronics like computers…. which is why you don’t see laptop computers being sold with two prong plugs… USB chargers are sold as two prong, because the technology itself alters the current running through it, but at this point, computer’s won’t charge off of a USB cord. I’ll tell you right now, owners who won’t bother to put in an extensions cord or a power strip usually turn out to provide an inferior product/stay.
Drapes or shades on the bedroom windows: for privacy and to block the sun, (again, you’d think this is a no brainer, but based on my own experience, it is not). Firstly, I do NOT raise with the sun … and more importantly, I want my privacy. I want to be able to walk around my room naked if I need to, and not worry about being seen. In Miami I once stayed in a room that had hip height to ceiling windows on two sides of the room, with neighboring homes all around… that ALL had unobstructed views right into my bedroom … and the 20 something male owner didn’t understand why I might take issue with this. (His bathroom was the same, THE BATHROOM!!!)
A comfortable bed: THIS is a hard one, because different people have different definitions of this. So for the purposes of this, let’s say that it is an actual mattress a normal distance off the floor (an actual bed, not an air mattress)… and there are no springs poking me in the back. One home I stayed at belonged to a retired woman who admitted that the mattress I was lying on was the one her daughter (now a mom with kids of her own) had slept on growing up … and hence the mattress was about 40 years old (I still shudder at the thought). It had coils poking me in the back that she had tried to obscure with one of those memory foam tops. IF you go to Asia be cognizant of the fact that the traditional culture there is to sleep on a futon on the floor (which is actually way better for your back… the soft beds you enjoy are why westerners suffer from so many back problems in later years), so that even their ‘western style beds’ in five star hotels will come with super firm mattresses. That and a lot of places still will only offer futons that are folded up and put away during the day time. My reality now, with my hips and knee problems is that I can’t easily get up from the floor on my own, so sleeping that way really isn’t a possibility for me anymore. (Maybe if I’d spent a lifetime having to do that on a daily basis I’d still have that flexibility, but it is what it is.)
Stairs: I’m at that age where I am starting to have some difficulty with stairs, so I ask them to please warn me if the room I’m considering requires more than one flight. That said, as I have a hard time just getting myself up a flight of stairs, I need help lugging something like a suitcase the same, so I ask for it. For short stays, knowing this, I have a backpack type thing I put what I’ll need for overnight into, and I leave my suitcases in the car.
Long-term (more than a few days):
If I ask to stay between three weeks and two months (depending), then that town is my destination, and I expect to be able to unpack and ‘get comfortable.’ So, if the Airbnb offerings are REALLY NOT set up for that, or amenable to having an extended-stay guest comfortably ensconced for MORE than a few nights, I tell the hosts to PLEASE be honest and tell me about it. (My experience is they get gleeful about the possibility of earning a lot of cash with little effort, and forget that REALLY that room is not set up for it, and the result will be a very UNHAPPY customer and a lousy review.) I will assume a long term rental includes EVERYTHING I mentioned for sort term stays, PLUS:
A closet and or clothes rack: for hanging clothes – I’m a woman, I have nice clothes, like dresses, that require hanging, airing out, etc. The way airbnb works “hangers” like short term parking are considered an amenity that owners may or may not include. I travel around with a box of 50 velvet lined hangers in my car (you can get them at Costco for like $10)… so I don’t need nor necessarily want their cheap ass wire hangers left over from the dry cleaners … but I DO need some place to hang my stuff. You’d be surprised the number of times I’ve been put into rooms that did not have anywhere to do that.
Empty shelving for clothes, at least 2 or 3 drawers worth, so I can unpack my suitcase; with empty being the operative word. (Again, you’d think this would be obvious, but apparently it is not)
Free Parking, that is NOT on the street: While street parking is ok if I’m only staying for a few days, most cities, towns and villages have stickers they sell to locals that need to be there if they’re going to be using street parking for an extended period. My car is easily identifiable due to ample bumper stickers, and police have ticketed me for not having a local tags after a few days of parking in the same location; if it’s in a driveway or in a garage then it’s on private property and not under their purview. Airbnb owners tend to completely forget this little detail, and when you get ticketed, they’re NOT going to pay the fine for you.
Kitchen access: A reasonably sized microwave: that I can actually cook my single person meals in (I prefer nuking to most other formats). And by reasonably sized I don’t mean one of those tiny ones, I mean one I can put a single serving pyrex into, or a full sized dinner plate. A refrigerator with freezer space: This does NOT mean a mini fridge in the bedroom. I have a medically restricted diet and live mostly off of frozen ingredients which don’t come in tiny bags. So I need at least one shelf each of fridge and freezer space, A sink for washing food and dishes in, I once rented what had been advertised as an “entire apartment” which was a bedroom over a garage that had a mini-fridge and a microwave but where the owner freaked out when she realized I was having to wash my dishes in the bathroom’s sink… and “NO you can’t do that!!! It’ll clog the pipes!” … well lady, where do you WANT me to wash these? The toilet?
and HOPEFULLY a toaster or better yet, a toaster oven. I can microwave toast, but it’s kind of nasty.While I love access to freshly brewed coffee in the morning, if it’s something the owner normally provides, if not, I can made due. Some grocery stores sell cold coffee in their fridges, and if not I can drink stuff I bought the night before at a cafe in a pinch…
A washer/Dryer: this would be a washer IN the house or garage that I have access to, and detergent; or if an apartment… not coin operated ones located down in the basement or some such. In some places, like Australia, the sun is SO hot and the air so dry that even wet jeans will dry on the line in a two or three hours, so dryers are only ever found in high rise apartments, and sometime not even there. So I’m flexible about the dryer part.
Help on stairs with suitcases: if I am staying more than one night I WILL need help from someone stronger and steadier on their feet than myself (I’m also at the age where I’m starting to have balance issues) in getting my bags up and down stairs.
Privacy while in the bathroom: I never thought I would have to say this, but experience is a harsh teacher: A bathroom for showering that offers privacy from the neighbors. Recently, in a male owned home I was assigned a bathroom where my nudity was only hidden from the waist down, and when I asked the host that he do something to fix it (I had actually upon arriving intended to ask Airbnb to move me, but he begged me not to, promising to make changes), he answered, “how is increasing the safety of female guests going to increase my profit margin?” Seriously, not making this up.
Booking an Airbnb:
Use the airbnb search engine: It helps you to find homes with the amenities you want on the dates you want. Check and double check because sometimes the settings don’t take the first time out (the web site isn’t perfect and is always undergoing tweaks that create new bugs). Really think about what you NEED, and makes sure to check those items… if you don’t check air conditioning you can’t complain or rebook because a heat wave came into town. For me, I always check: Private room or entire apartment, maximum price per night, the number of bedrooms and beds I need, washer (and or dryer depending on the climate), Wifi, Kitchen, aircon in summer and heat if I’m going there in winter (actually in high rises I’ll also look for aircon because the higher you go the hotter the apartments get to the point where you can have all the windows open even in the dead of winter and still be too warm)
NEVER ASSUME, STUDY the pictures: unless they’re Superhosts, a lot of the owners are clueless and would never live in the room they’re expecting you to pay them money to live in. REALLY look at the picture, I mean REALLY… and if there are no pictures or insufficient ones, don’t book there. How big is your bedroom? Does it have windows? Are there shades on the windows? Is there a side table? A night lamp? A closet or someplace to put your clothes? And if the room doesn’t have what you’d assume it should have … ASK BEFORE BOOKING!!!(I’ve had owners realize the deficit and promise to rectify it before my arrival. Once that’s in the emails, if they have NOT done it by the time you arrive, you have cause for Airbnb to refund you, and evidence of their contractually agreeing to do it. Airbnb considers any communication in the emails as part of the contract. )
READ ALL THE REVIEWS!!!! IF an owner is pretty sure the review that’s going to be left to them is going to be a bad one, there’s a trick to pushing it down the queue… if they do NOT leave the guest a review, the bad review won’t show up for 15 days (which is an improvement, as it used to be the bad review didn’t show up at all), and if they know two or three guests are set to rent in that time, that ensures that the review might not show up till the next page (which you might not bother going to). So read all the reviews and believe what you read.That said, read BETWEEN THE LINES!!! A lot of Guests are afraid of leaving bad reviews for fear that other hosts won’t want to rent to them if they do… so sometimes they just kind of hint about the place being bad. So be wary and exaggerate the importance of any tiny complaint. This is especially true if it’s a room in a house, because most people are unwilling to leave bad reviews if they have met the owner. All of this tends to sort of “break” the whole value of the review system.
When booking well in advance:NEVERbook an airbnb that has a strict cancellation policy, unless its for within the next few days! A lot of folks never bother to pay attention to this but airbnb has THREE booking policies: Flexible, Moderate and Strict. The first two are utterly reasonable and designate how far in advance you can cancel with a refund (24 hour or five days, respectively). The third one, STRICT, which seems to be the setting about half of the owners opt for is in my opinion NUTS. I recently read an article, and MOST experienced customers will avoid those bookings, till the last minute (as in within the next week),— Airbnb is currently using a carrot method to try to wean owners off of using strict, as the increasing prevelence of it is making former customers reconsider hotels. (An owner informed me that the company has informed them that it will now take a larger percentage of what the customer has paid if the owners set the refund policy to strict.)With a strict booking you will NOT get your money back, PERIOD(great for them, shit for you). IF you call Airbnb and cry long and hard enough, and can come up with something justifiable, like you Dad just died, they MIGHT let you out of the booking with a refund, but it’s not a sure thing. In my mind there’s really no justification for strict to exist, especially if the bookings are made well in advance. I for instance book a good three months in advance… now I could understand it if Flexible changed to Strict with two weeks left to go, or some such… but strict bookings three months out is crazy.– Talking to Airbnb I just learned something important… IF in the emails with the owner, (BEFORE YOU BOOK!!!) you can get them to agree to something OTHER than strict… so for instance, if you might say in your emails with the owner, ‘as I’m booking this 6 months out, would you agree to give me a full refund if I cancel at least three weeks out?’ And they agree to it explicitly (make sure they ACTUALLY agree, not say they might, or it’s possible… what you need is a solid YES) and THEN you book … IN THAT CASE, when you need to do the cancellation, CALL airbnb, DO NOT use the web site to cancel, and ask the staffer to read the emails from before the booking happened, because there’s an agreement in there for a full refund under these conditions. Airbnb will consider that part of a pre-existing modification to the contract, and give you the refund, the owner won’t be able to go back on that agreement.
—That said, BE AWARE!!! Airbnb has a new policy, IF you reserve the room for 27 days or longer the booking is automatically strict. They are doing this now as a way to appease local ordinances that are trying to get rid of airbnb’s all together, because of the slum lords who are changing their long term rental units to airbnb’s in order to earn more money from them… thereby creating local affordable housing shortages. This change, as much as I personally don’t like it because I always booked one month at a time, makes sense to me.
Unless they’re Superhosts with 50+ 5-star reviews, contact the host: Do this BEFORE putting in a booking request, and wait for them to respond. Talk to them, ask them a few questions. Do this EVEN with folks who are set up for auto booking set up — unless you’re road tripping, they have “self check in” as an option (they don’t need to be there for you to get in) and you’re desperate to find a place to sleep that night. My experience is if they don’t get back to you within two hours, your most likely dealing with a host who won’t be responsive to your needs, and worse you might just find yourself hanging around for a few hours waiting to be let into the rental. THAT and once you put in a booking request, you’re kind of married to that rental until the owner gets around to accepting or rejecting… and they have 24 hours to do it.
Leave an honest review! The review system only works if you’re honest.
When things go wrong:
Let’s face it, life happens. Both for you and the people hosting you. One of the things to remember about Airbnb is that it is NOT a hotel… most of these people aren’t organized enough to have back up staff… and life happens.
So, the main thing to remember is, CALL AIRBNB!!!!
No seriously. I strongly suggest that your first move should always be to call them rather than deal with problems via their website. For the most part their customer support people are very good, and very helpful… and when they’re not hang up and try for a different one.
This includes: IF YOU NEED to cancel because of a REAL reason (and ‘we decided to stay with friends, or a hotel’ … isn’t a real reason), and can CONVINCE them that it’s a real reason, they will try to work with you and might even under certain circumstances arrange a full reimbursement including fees. What they’ll do will depend on who you talk to and how much empathy you can build with the person on the other side of the phone and the legitimacy of your issue.
— That said, just recently (Feb 2018) I’ve noticed that instead of getting routed to a stay at home mom working from home (with the occasional sound of kids in the background), Airbnb has switched to call centers staffed by guys. Ever since this happened, customer service has DROPPED like a bomb… so be prepared.
Don’t cancel unless you’ve GOT a REAL reason. For myself I’ve in about three years only ever cancelled twice. The first time it was when I had decided to completely change my travel plans and go to Australia instead of stay another month in Orlando … and that time it was all on me, so I lost service fee but was reimbursed the rent and tax. In the second case it was a rental I had made over a month previous that wasn’t due to happen for yet another month going forward (I like to book a good three months in advance when I can). When I had booked, the male host was new to Airbnb and only had one or two reviews… it being a month later, and just for shits and giggles I decided to see what folks had written in the time since… and was utterly freaked out of my head by what one woman had written about her stay. I immediately called Airbnb, told them that as a single woman traveling alone I would feel UNSAFE staying at the home of this man (because of what this other woman had written), and told them I had already decided on a DIFFERENT Airbnb that I wanted to be moved too… the woman on the line read the review, completely agreed with me that this was NOT OK behavior on the part of the host …. she reimbursed my full price including fees (and promised to send a sharply worded letter to the unsafe host) and I re-booked to the new location.
Remember what I said about leaving honest reviews? You have an obligation to the people booking after you to warn them about bad shit…
But there’s a second case, sometimes a host will cancel on you, and my advice is the same. Just the other day I met some strangers at a restaurant (they were at the next table) and we got to talking. They told me how on their very first airbnb attempt, the host, “some young guy” who was subletting his apartment out while he was going to travel, had decided he wasn’t feeling up to it and canceled on them at 5am on the same day they were supposed to check in.
I asked them, “did you call airbnb” … and of course, no they had not… they just put their tail between their legs and decided to never use the service again. I explained to them how when my bookings had fallen through at the last minute, Airbnb has put me up in reasonably priced hotels (I paid and sent them the bill and they reimbursed me) when a host left me hanging like that, and while in my case it was just an over night stay, I would assume they’d do it until I was able to secure a different airbnb booking in that location… or one nearby…. while stuff like this is pretty rare, it happens.
Here’s a list of other sites I found that discuss some of these issues:
Glacier National Park is HUGE, as in you can’t really see and enjoy the whole place in one day, not even if you’re going to do the whole thing by car. It is just too big. This was my second day, when I explored the western half… and then wished I’d allowed myself a full week at the place.
Warning: If you arrive at the park early in the season (I was there at the very end of May) the “Going to the Sun” drive which connects the east and west segments and travels through the middle of the park will most likely STILL be blocked with snow. If it is you’ll be forced — as I was– to leave the park and circle around via lower altitude roads.
I stayed two nights at Brownies Youth Hostel and Restaurant, which is near the eastern side of the park. I had found it via Airbnb, but had then contacted them directly and made the booking by phone in order to ensure that I got the specific room I wanted (a private and across the hall from the ladies bathroom). It was the ONLY Airbnb near where I wanted to be, as close to the park as possible but not far off the highway I was going to take up to Calgary, and every hotel I found in that same area (note: I was not yet truly skilled in the ways of finding high quality mom and pop motels yet, so this price was compared to the larger hotels, etc) were asking WAY more than I wanted to pay. Here at the hostel, a bunk-bed in a shared dorm room is $22/night, and a private room with a double bed is $65 — utterly reasonable prices. I really enjoyed my stay there and met a bunch of really nice college kids who were roughing it, as well as a really nice married Indian couple who were both young professors (one taught business, the other psychology).
I will say the only unexpected (it is a hostel and not a hotel) downsides of Brownies were 1) the WiFi in my bedroom sucked to the point of useless; the modem was down the hall where the shared spaces were — kitchen and living room and was good and fast there, but the signal just didn’t really reach to my room. And, 2) while the rustic log cabin walls were cute and provided visual privacy, they resulted in small gaps between the interior and exterior walls with the result that they did not block noises from the other rooms pretty much at all. This would not really have been a problem were it not for the fact that the college dude sleeping in the bed on the other side of it had a snore like a freight train (thank the lord I ALWAYS travel with an ample supply of top of the line ear plugs). He was in a group of guys who were bicycling their way across America (raising money along the way), and we all kidded him about he’d have to do something about that snore if he ever wanted to get and stay married.
After breakfast I headed around south and then west along route 2 through the Marias Pass to the other end of the “Going to the Sun” road, which I had not been able to reach the yesterday due to snow and ice still blocking the roads at the higher elevations.
So, on the way there I passed through the Louise & Clark National forest, which is yet ANOTHER stop of the Louise & Clark trail… and get this, it’s May 28th, and it is SNOWING! (no wonder the higher elevations are still blocked with snow). Off to the side of the road there was an area with two big memorials, and one tiny one:
This statue is in memory of John F. Stevens (25 April 1853 – 2 June 1943), an American civil engineer who helped to build both the great Northern Railroad and the Panama Canal, [the following is according to the highly faded and barely legible sign that was standing in front of him, sad] “was charged finding a suitable rail route across the Continental Divide. In December of 1889, Stevens located and recorded the pass which had been used by area Native Americans for many centuries” i.e., what came to be known as Marias Pass.
There was also a third, very small memorial … just a big chunk of pink rock with a plaque embedded into it which I actually found kind of touching:
There’s a story (found it on the cite I linked to Morrison’s name, see below)), about how “John F. Stevens, credited by the Great Northern Railroad with the discovery of Marias Pass, spoke at the dedication of the Stevens statue at Summit. In the course of his speech, Stevens told of hardships in searching out the pass over the Continental Divide. He explained that it was December, and he had nearly perished in a blizzard at the pass. At this point, Morrison spoke up from the crowd: “Why didn’t you come over to my house? I was living right over there,” he said, pointing to his cabin.” — makes me smile
Again, there was a very faded sign in front of the memorial (that was even LESS legible than the last one) with more information:
“William H. “Slippery Bill” Morrison was a mountain man who had “squatters rights” on 160 acres at the Marias Pass summit. He donated a portion of his land for the site of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial monument.
Morrison was a frontier philosopher who would often expound on his favorite theories to anyone who would listen. Morrison spent most of his life as a trapper and prospector.
Slippery Bill diet in 1932 at the age of 84. According to his wishes the balance of his land was transferred to the federal government after his death.”
All of which was followed by a very faded sketch of the old guy:
As I approached the park, firstly I realized that there were way more people here than had been at the other end of the park, and second — after driving over an hour to get here — I realized I had better fill up before entering the West Glacier Park entrance, because those places almost never have gas stations inside the park boundaries. Also, it was SO FRIGGING COLD (may 28th and it was SNOWING) that I decided to try to unload my trunk and dig out the down coat, winter hat and gloves that I had buried in the compartment designed for the spare wheel.
Granted, this made them kind of inaccessible, but they were there for emergencies just like this one. My overall goal with these trips is to structure my movements so as to never need see full winter, but, that said I had had the forethought to bring them just in case. Let’s face it, even southern Florida occasionally gets a cold snap. I also lug around a big thick down blanket in the backseat of my car, for the same reason, and have had a few days when I needed it. My car actually is loaded with food (nuts, olives, etc), loads of water, and a heavy down blanket just in case the car should happen to break down in the middle of no where on a cold night. Yes, I’m a planner.
Anyway, since my massive suitcases were still in there, and I needed help in order to remove them, I spotted a guy standing off to the side with a handful of papers and called him over asking him to help me. Turned out his name was John Marshall and he was from the University of Montana and was doing a research questionnaire about tourism at the park, and in exchange for my scratching his back (answering the very long questionnaire) he helped me unload and then reload my car, and we got to talking…
As we were talking the question of the local Blackfeet population came up (I forget why), and I told him about the heavily graffiti-ed obelisk I had passed on the way to my hostel, just the day before; so, he was the one actually gave me the heads up about the confrontational history between the local tribes and Louis & Clark; and he was also the one who told me to look up Elouise Cobell, and how she had brought a case titled, Cobell v. Babbittagainst the United states Department of Interior based on her own investigation of their practices (that she said “revealed mismanagement, ineptness, dishonesty, and delay of federal officials”of Indian trust assets … money owned by the government but held in trust for Native Americans… to the tune of $176 billion).
Apparently he had not long before attended her funeral, so she was active in his mind — and I got so distracted in talking to him that when I finally got into the park I realized that in all that moving, packing and talking that I had completely forgotten to actually pump any gas. So I had to leave the park after having just entered (yay for my National parks pass) to go get gas (again). At which point I realized it was already lunch time, and that I was hungry …. so I stopped at the West Glacier Restaurant and got myself an elk sausage (seriously, elk!), tomato Florentine soup and cup of a huckleberry tea (am saving room for more huckleberry pie for tonight) — it was supposed to be served in a kaiser roll type thing but I asked them to hold the carbs, and the french fries, and give me more veggies instead
And then FINALLY I got into the park!
Leading off of the lake and up into the mountains is this river, which is full of a lot of picturesque twists and turns, and rapids, etc… which the “Road to the Sun” follows alongside of, heading up into the mountains… or at least at this time of year up until the road conditions become unsafe….
and multiple times along the river you come to narrow bridges you can often drive across, but at the other side you usually find some limited parking and hiking trails (of course with my painful hips, knees, and plantar fasciitis — feet — this was not something I was going to do, that and I didn’t have proper hiking boots, just a pair of Crocs, because of the plantar fasciitis).
As I traveled around the park I kept running into this film crew who said they worked for a German TV station, they had this big red van and sometimes sometimes would prop the cameraman and his rig up over the top of at… the last time I saw them was when I was about to leave, and a park cop and pulled them over, lights and all, which made me think that maybe they didn’t have the proper permits… either that or he wasn’t pleased to see the cameraman perched on their hood
At one point I came to this place, where there were all sorts of cars parked to one side, only there was no parking for me, so I parked as far off the road as I could on the side where there was no designated parking (hoping it wouldn’t earn me a ticket.
When I initially parked here I was the only car not on the side with designated parking spot, but instead on the wrong side of the road pulled off to the side as much as possible… I came back five minutes later seven cars (two not visible) had already followed my lead
I kept driving up as far as I could, but about 45 minutes in, as the elevation started to rise, snow and sleet started to come down, I had started to approach, but hadn’t gotten anywhere near the area called
At this point the weather was definitively nasty (I actually ran into one of my fellow youth Hostel guests up there), and there was a massive road block… so there was no choice but to return the way I had come… only this time I took one of the many side roads that led back around the lake to the other side
After driving around a while I came to a section of the park that was all shops and restaurants, and a hotel complex within the park for visitors. In one of the shops I found this, and … well…. my new car is in dire need of some new bumper stickers:
Finally, I headed home and after stopping off for dinner, where I got myself that piece of Huckleberry pie, I headed back to the Hostel, at which point I realized that it was 10 pm and it is still light out… WTF?! How far North am I?