DALLAS DETOUR

You never really quite know what to expect in Dallas.  My recent visit for a conference provided one surprise after another.

It all started at the airport.  Someone told us that the best way to get to our hotel, the Hyatt, was to catch the DART – something like our C Train service.  Apparently, all you had to do was hop onto the train at the airport and it would deposit us at Union Station just across the road from our hotel.  Sounds simple, right?   Um – no.

First of all, simply finding the station at DFW is a nightmare.  Optimistic signs with arrows pointing in the general direction surprisingly fizzled out.  We walked one way – then another – then asked an airport employee who was having his smoke break.  I couldn’t understand what he said but he waved us back inside the airport.  It was then we realized that to catch the DART (rapid transit – what a laugh) we had to catch a bus to the other terminal where the DART station would be found.  This little jaunt ended up taking about 20 minutes.  By this time, I was wishing I had taken a taxi …. but that’s another story.

Eventually we got to the station and purchased our tickets.  Now here was another weird twist.  In order to purchase these on a credit card you had to enter your ZIP code.  Only 5 spaces.  Our postal code has 6 spaces.  What the hell?  Fortunately, someone there at the same time told us that if you are using a Canadian credit card you have to put in the 3 letters followed by 2 zeros.  Oh, my goodness.  Has anyone heard of this before?  So, with my postal code being T2J 5C4 I had put to in TJC00.  We finally got our tickets and thankfully the train was still standing in the station.

We jumped on board and found empty seats with plenty of space for our suitcases – only then realizing that the reason the seats were empty was because a bird had pooped all over them.   *sigh*.   But we were on the train and would be at our destination very quickly – we thought – Rapid Transit, right?

Nope.

Looking at the map on the wall it seemed that in order to get to Union Station we would have to change trains.  Oh, now this is complicated.  We got to the end of the line (whereupon the train goes back to the airport) and got off the train during which time we met a lovely couple – mom and daughter – who had overheard our confused conversation.  “Don’t y’all worry” mom told us.  “Y’all just stick with us.  We going to the same place as you.”  OK great.  We climbed on the train making sure to keep mom and daughter in our sights.

The next problem occurred when the ticket inspector got on the train.  Our guardian angels were inspected, and then removed from the train and promptly fined and arrested.  Bye guardian angels…

Chugging along on the train we were joined at one of the stations by a very weird guy who looked like he might be high on something and a lovely sweet homeless lady who chatted our heads off.  We were told that the train we were on would take us to Union Station – so we could relax.  As we approached Union Station we started getting our stuff together…. but the train just raced right through Union Station without stopping.

What the heck?

No problem to our high as a kite friend who promptly started pulling the emergency stop lever.  With that the train ground to a halt in the middle of a tunnel.  A few suspenseful moments ensued when we all sat in silence and then the train started to move again.  Curiouser and curiouser.
alice
When the train pulled into the next station we rushed off the train with our big suitcases and then had to cross the train tracks to get to the other side while we waited for the next train coming from the other direction, so we could travel one stop and get off at – yes – Union Station.

 

Yes, we said – we should have taken a taxi.  Which we did the next day when we wanted to go out for dinner.  Now that’s another story completely.  Cowboy Cabs, Ubers and rip off unmetered rides and more ….

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WORST AND BEST VACATIONS

I recently sat down with one of the SAIT students who is registered in the Travel and Tourism program.  One of their projects was to interview someone in the travel industry and so I happily obliged.  In this day and age of so many people viewing a career as a travel professional as a side-line “hobby” it is gratifying to know that SAIT’s travel program is still so robust.

I was, however, stumped when I was asked the question – What is the worst experience you have ever had during your travels?

Goodness me.  I could not think of one.  Is that weird?  Am I just incredibly lucky or maybe I am a positive person and focus on the good and forget the bad?  I wracked my brain.  C’mon Lesley – surely there must have been something terrible that has happened on all the travel trips I have undertaken.

Nope …. Nothing there.

memory

I dug deeper into my memory!

YES – I got it!  I have something for you I told the young student.

Travelling down to San Juan for a cruise we had to go via Dallas.  Well Dallas had half an inch of snow.  No big deal to us at YYC but in Dallas it was a catastrophe.  All flights cancelled.  People milling around – grumbling and moaning.  In anticipation of angry mobs the American Airlines check in ladies were moved and replaced by some burly looking guys.  (Yeah – go on – you try making me cry!)

OK – no problem.  I am a travel agent and I have a team at home to help.  I called and asked them to get me a room for the night – somewhere.  Eventually they got me a booking at a motel about 30 kms from the airport.  Grabbed a taxi – got to the hotel – only to find that they denied all knowledge of the booking even though I had a confirmation number and email.

Hmmmm – this comes to the second question – What is the most frustrating part of being a travel agent.  Exactly this – when suppliers – be it hotels, transfer companies or airlines don’t do what we have booked them to do and then just deny any knowledge of how this happened…. Anyway that is another story.

So grabbed a quick meal at the local diner – met some very interesting locals (not) – and then took another expensive taxi back to Dallas.

In the meantime the airport had called in help to provide blankets and cots.  Of course because I had been out chasing my tail there were non left for yours truly.  Now what?  When all else fails find a pub.  The Irish Pub was in full swing.  A Stagette group who were on their way to Vegas had their stagette at the pub.  It was fun.

That night we slept on the floor in the airport.

Now I guess that was the worst experience that I can think of for now.  I had to really really think about it.

As for the best travel experience ……  Have you got a few weeks to spare – it’s a long list!!!

HOTELS AREN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE

Much like UBER changed the landscape for taxi users, different models of hotels and accommodation have changed things radically for travellers.  Air BnB is growing in popularity, although there is a backlash even here in Calgary from “proper” hotels who pay taxes and must abide by very tight guidelines.  VRBO has been around for years and is still popular and now hotel chains are reinventing themselves to provide varying levels and types of accommodation.

On top of that there are YOTELS you can choose – how does a YOTEL differ from the regular hotels you may be used to?  Well first of all their rooms are called “cabins” – conjures up images of a weekend in the woods.
log cabin

with strange neighbours

weird hillbillies

So Hoteliers are notching up their game and coming up with different ideas in accommodation and locations to entice you away from Air BnB and their friends.  But are they going too far?

Would you stay in a silo in New Zealand?  Definitely different but not really my cup of tea.  I wonder how our Alberta farmers would feel about spending their holiday in a silo?

silostay-newzealand-p

Or you can stay in  Magic Mountain in Chile – described as a water spewing volcano hotel.

magic-mountain_chile

This one however is my absolute favourite and I would stay there in a heartbeat – the only hotel project undertaken by Frank Gehry and located in the wine regions of Spain. It’s absolutely beautiful

hotel-marques-de-riscal-la-rioja-spain-p

There’s so much to consider when booking a hotel – location, facilities, wifi (there’s another debate …. many today feel free wifi is a basic human right) and naturally of course – price.

This is where VRBO and Air BnB have got the edge.

Or have they?

I came across this handy website where Air BnB and hotel rates are confirmed – and wow – the results are surprising.  Seems like Air BnB did not come out cheaper at all in certain cities.  https://www.busbud.com/blog/airbnb-vs-hotel-rates/

There has also been a lot of controversy about AirBnB when certain would be guests are refused based on their ethnicity.  Those using AirBnB were recommended not to have a profile picture on their facebook account as property owners regularly do online checks of people wanting to rent.   (report in The Guardian on 27 April 2017).

Me – I like having a proper hotel with a check in desk, security, facilities like a coffee shop and a concierge – but then maybe I am just old fashioned.

doorman

 

 

 

YOU MUST DO THIS BEFORE YOU TRAVEL

No, it’s not checking your passport (although that’s important) and it’s got nothing to do with working out foreign currencies or putting bookmarks in your Lonely Planet book for places you don’t want to miss.

It’s about the shopping.

You see shopping while you are on a trip is fun – true.  But the pre-travel shopping you get to do BEFORE your trip is the best shopping ever.

I tried to figure out why pre-travel shopping gives me such pleasure.  I think part of it is because it is guilt free.  After all – I am going to be travelling – so naturally I NEED a new pair of sketchers as opposed to wanting a new pair.  It is so easy to justify buying new things when you are preparing for a trip and what a rush when you get home and unpack that new travel bag, walking shoes, quick drying socks – not to mention the new sunglasses (but I NEEDED them).  I often feel that the planning and preparation of a trip can be just as much fun as the trip itself.  Although be careful with your pre-trip shopping budget….

shopping meme

There are so many fun travel things that you really will need for your next trip –

You might need a new suitcase – heaven knows – mine is really battered by now so I think I will be looking at this soon.  Decisions decisions.  Do I go soft cover or hard cover?  Four wheels are definitely a must.  Something distinctive would be good so I can spot it on the carousel.  If you can’t find a distinctive looking suitcase you can always buy a sticker for your old suitcase and ensure that nobody will pick this one up from the carousel
suitcase-stickers

Apart from the usual travel essentials such as a rain jacket, travel umbrella, anti-pickpocket purse there are some really fun things you can add to your pre-travel shopping list.

Running around airport terminals dragging your suitcase but need to stow your coffee cup somewhere?  No problem …

travelling coffee cup

Or this one … a portable bidet no less.  Seriously.  I must be missing something here but just look at all those happy faces on the box!!  portable bidet

And for those hot and sweaty destinations – now all your troubles are over with this air conditioned shirt
air conditioned shirt

And with this nifty gadget you will never need to worry about catching the flu …or anything else for that matter
germ wand
The germ wand will keep you protected as you sanitise your seat before your fly.   Although your fellow passengers may think that you are auditioning for the next Star Wars film
LukeSkywalkerLightsaber2

But this hand travel gadget wins hands down –
wine-bag

Much better than the coffee cup holder – imho.

WHO NEEDS IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

You may have noticed a trend lately on some of your flights that there is no in flight entertainment.  Many airlines are encouraging you to download an app on your ipad or computer before you fly.  This means you can use your own equipment to watch a film.  If you don’t have the download or if you don’t have an ipad with you then you can rent one – from the airline of course.  The problem is that sometimes the rented ipad (or even the comp one in the premium economy class) just doesn’t work very well.

Or perhaps you are on a long international flight and you do have seat back tv screens – so you don’t need an ipad then – but again, sometimes the screens just don’t work very well.

People become very mad about this situation.

Just google “inflight entertainment” and see how many cases there are of people wanting compensation because they had hours of flying with no entertainment at all.

I have to wonder about this.  Apart from the fact that you can read a book (a skill that seems to be fading fast), just sit and observe – there is a whole world of entertainment around you.  A veritable Hollywood in fact.

passengers

It is inevitable when you put 600 people in a metal tube flying through the air at an altitude of 39,000 ft for hours on end you are going to come across some strange people and/or some strange behaviour.

Check out Shawn Kathleen’s facebook page – she is a former flight attendant, self named the Sassy Stew.  During her time in the air she documented horrible passenger behaviour which people had a problem believing, until she started sharing the photographs.  https://www.facebook.com/PassengerShaming

It is quite incredible what some people will do on a plane.  Things that they would probably never do in their own home (or maybe not).

passenger shaming 4

Just about anybody who has travelled has had the experience of annoying behaviour – and it seems that the longer the flight the more annoying the behaviour becomes.  Things such as –

  • Everytime the person behind you stands up they use the back of your chair like a hoisting crane
  • The person who constantly checks their stuff in the overhead bin and bangs the door shut waking everyone up around
  • The person who is sitting behind you and has that nervous foot tapping thing going on

People are always surprised when I tell them I love flying – despite the above.  Think about it.  Time is so precious.  When was the last time you got to spend 8 hours doing absolutely nothing except reading, sleeping, eating and drinking.  Fantastic!  No errands to run, no phones to answer, no emails to send, no cooking or cleaning to do.  Bring it on.  I love flying and I really do not need any in-flight entertainment to keep me happy.  But then maybe I am the strange one.

reading on plane

HURRICANE PEOPLE ARE TOUGH PEOPLE

I guess we always feel a bit jealous of those who live on a Caribbean island and have weekends of beach and palm trees – every – single – week!

At the moment we are not that jealous and sit back in awe in our comfortable homes watching the destruction of hurricane after hurricane.  Those who are lucky enough to have brick and concrete structures can “weather the storm” and have been sharing incredible mobile phone videos with the world.  For the vast majority however who live in wooden and more flimsy homes the devastation has been terrible.

But these people are resilient and the tourism industry is very important for many of these small Caribbean islands.  They will rebuild, the waves will calm down, the beaches will return to normal and new baby palm trees will take the place of the broken and battered ones. ….and they need your continued support.

You see, sometimes a bad situation brings out the best in people.

Here are just a few of the feel good stories –

Some employees who were stranded at a bakery by the flood made bread for hungry survivors. The bakers were stuck at the bakery for two days, but instead of being idle, they worked all night long to make hundreds of loaves of pan dulce bread to help nourish fellow flood victims. (source)

Four teenage boys rescued more than 50 people in Houston.  After waking up to discover his beloved truck was under water, a 17-year-old Texas boy enlisted his younger brother and two other teens to get on a fishing boat and rescue more than 50 people – and their pets – and bring them to the safety of a local shelter. (source)

Two furniture stores turned their locations into pet-friendly shelters. Mattress Mac welcomed displaced residents, their children, and their pets into their stores to provide them with a comfortable place to stay. (source)

Anne OBrion, a nurse from Richmond, Virginia, knew the hurricane was coming when she booked her vacation in Puerto Rico, “but I didn’t want to give up my trip for it.”  So OBrion was stuck in her hotel in San Juan as Irma made its way past the island Wednesday night.

OBrion said she had told authorities that she’s a nurse and was prepared to pitch in if needed.  “One doctor can’t take care of all these people,” she said. “I’m willing to do what’s necessary to help people. That’s why I do what I do.”

So sometimes disasters like this bring out the best in people – and we saw the same here with the Fort McMurray fires and the High River floods.

It’s a shame that sometimes it takes a disaster for us to reach out –

caribbean

 

 

 

 

Why you need to go to Ireland

Ireland is a wonderful land – a beautiful green island that has seen its fair share of war and famine.  Go there – soon!  Start at the top and work your way down to the bottom.  Walk the coastal routes and marvel at beaches that would rival anything you see in the Caribbean.  Travel on roads so narrow it is incredible how two-way traffic is allowed – and works.  Find yourself in a Derry pub with traditional music playing and the owner might even invite you behind the bar to pull a pint!

Guinness

You see it is the people and the Irish spirit that makes the island so special – and yes I say island and not country because Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland together make up the Emerald Isle.

I toured the cities of the “troubles” – Derry and Belfast – and saw this from the unique perspective of both sides – Loyalists and Republicans.  Our group drove through one of the many gates in Belfast which still separate Catholic and Protestant and closes each night at 6 pm.  We even had a chance to add to the multi-coloured murals with our own graffiti –
belfast wall

I was there during the semi finals of Gaelic Football with Dublin playing Kerry.  My goodness – makes the Red Mile in Calgary look sad.  Every house was decorated in the blue of Dublin’s team and although I didn’t go to the match we went to the local pub to “celebrate”.  I think the bar tenders there must be lip readers – they certainly couldn’t hear any of the orders shouted across the bar.

You see the Irish have a turn of phrase – a way of saying things that make you stop, think and then laugh.

Take the famous statue of Molly Malone – I am sure you have heard the old song – and the statue is a popular tourist attraction in Dublin.

molly-malone-statue

Leave it to the Irish – she is known locally as the “tart with the cart”.

Then there is the famous Spire …. The Spire of Dublin, alternatively titled the Monument of Light, is a large, stainless steel, pin-like monument 120 metres in height, located on the site of the former Nelson’s Pillar on O’Connell Street in Dublin,   This was erected to replace Nelson’s column which had been blown up by the IRA in 1966.  They did have another go at it during the Easter Rising in 1916 but apparently the explosives failed to ignite due to dampness – my goodness me!  Rain in Ireland?  What a concept.

spire

Leave it to the Irish – known as the Stilleto in the Ghetto!

Or how about this beauty?  Meant to personify the River Liffy this statue was erected where the Spire is now.

floozie

Leave it to the Irish – this became well-known as the Floozie in the Jacuzzi.

So go there – have a Guinness – have a laugh – have a cry.