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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Home again again.

More reflections coming up. I want to make sure I cover packing and activities and plans for future trips, but let’s return to accommodations for a moment. Last time I listed all the good hotels. Now it’s time for the losers.

Days Inn, which wouldn’t recognize its Veterans’ Discount. UPDATE: Days Inn Headquarters overruled Joanne and promised she would be counseled. They sent us a check. Good job!

Super 8, which wanted us to sign our lives away in case our dogs made noise, but wouldn’t control wild children and nasty parents. UPDATE: The manager there wrote us a letter full of excuses. Not good enough. They still stink.

Ramada Limited, where the physical plant was so decrepit I broke my arm. UPDATE: They refunded our entire stay. Chances are good I won't sue. I'm looking into it, but it may not even be worth the trouble. But I would never stay in one of those again!

Quality and Comfort Inn, where not one pool out of three was both clean and the right temperature. In each of these locations, the staff told one lie or another, and I only mentioned their worst problems here. Their other failings are detailed in earlier blogs, and on hotel review sites. No response from them. Bad hotels. Do not stay there. Last June, coincidentally, I stayed at one of these little complexes near the Philly airport. I don't know the area and needed to get in and out of South Jersey fast. It also stunk. It was a little group of the "Clarion/Sleep/Quality" places and they were just all terrible. Broken things, dirty places, rude, apathetic management. Avoid.

America’s Best Value Inn was in a category of its own. A mom and pop operation, we felt despite the problems, they were really trying to do their best. So we give them a pass. But please, a few hangers and a little cream cheese wouldn’t break the bank. I mean, just collect a few dry cleaning hangers. Or you can get twelve for a dollar at the Dollar Store. Just sayin’.

Also, here’s a word on restaurants. Most of them were good. Really. The food was good, the wait staff was decent. The only restaurant issue we really had was places where there was little or no choice around the hotel, such as Wall and Custer, and the ones that allowed smoking, which we left. The four bad restaurants in a row in Mankato had to be some sort of bizarre coincidence, and we didn’t actually eat in them, anyway. The only bad meals were delivery to our rooms. This is one thing we will try really hard to avoid. The exception to this: Jimmy John’s in the Midwest. Best damned subs ever. And in the Upper Midwest, if there’s game on the menu, and you can eat it, don’t miss it. It will be their specialty and it’s excellent.

Okay, now about attractions. It really depends what you like. We like history and animals and parks. Natural phenomena, primarily. Some of the kooky things in Wisconsin Dells were not the best, but they have their own charm. The best thing we did has to be the helicopter ride in the Black Hills, and all the close-up wildlife in the state and national parks. So do what makes you happy. The Harry Truman home made me happy, too. Many might find it a musty old house, and that’s all it is to them, whereas for me, it's a step back into another time. I love caves and Joyce, eh, not so much. So just do your homework, is my advice.

Packing is an interesting exercise. We had to pack for ourselves and three dogs for seven weeks. Dogs have a lot of gear. I think they had two bags, plus their cages and all the poop bags we collected for the last six months. We had to pack for when we would be doing our own cooking, and for when we might have a microwave and refrigerator, and for when we had none of the above. We had to pack for various anticipated activities, not all of which came to pass, but you never know. As senior citizens, we have a lot of medications, as well as first aid items. And we were going to be in a lot of climates, so that meant everything from bathing suits to lined jackets.

We have a 92 Toyota Previa, and while it has a big interior, it’s not an RV or anything. We fold the back seats up to make room for the cages, and the coolers go behind the front seat on the floor. The bags we will not use every day go further in and down. The ones we will need every night are closer to the doors. We both tried to pack for two or three days at a time so we could leave certain bags in the car. One of us was better at this than the other, who frequently packed extra items in the laundry bag. And then there are souvenirs and other miscellaneous items, like guns and ammo, which have to be locked up. Having made over 20 separate stops, we will make an even greater effort in the future to get all our personal stuff in one bag each, to leave the souvenirs in the van overnight as much as possible and so on. The little cooler is heavy, but it always has to go in, in case there’s no fridge. We managed also to eliminate dragging one cage. The two little dogs can share the plastic cage, and Nick gets a nice pillow in the bathroom when we’re out of the room.

Oh, that’s right! Travel with dogs. I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s a lot cheaper than boarding them, and a lot happier for us to have them along. We don’t doubt for a minute that they would rather have spent the seven weeks at home, but they would rather go with us than board. And they did have some fun, smelling bison poop and the like. Here, look at all the fun they had!

The worst is having to walk them at night in the rain. Joyce can manage them all at once, but I have to take them one at a time so I can see who goes, and what, and where. And then there’s the picking up. It simply has to be done, or pets and their people will become less welcome than they already are. If you are reading this, and you don’t pick up, you aren’t even doing yourselves a favor. If you can change a diaper, you can pick up poop. You don’t even have to touch it if you do it right. In fact, you shouldn’t touch it, but carry hand sanitizer because it will make you feel better. Carry enough of their own food, don’t overdo the treats, make sure they have familiar bedding and toys, and if you rent a cabin, bring old sheets to cover the furniture. Yes, you have to do all these things, or you’re a slob. And enough people ARE slobs, or we wouldn’t keep encountering bad attitudes about dogs.

Finally, the future. We already booked the next trip, but it’s not blogable. We often rent a house on St George Island up in the Panhandle, and we’re going there for ten days in December, coming home for the holidays. All we will do there is vegetate. It’s very quiet. Very few other people will be there. There will be long walks on the beach, kayaking, lunch at the Blue Parrot, jigsaw puzzles, old movies and napping.

As to next summer, we will either go to the Galapagos or take another road trip. We’re leaning toward the desert Southwest; out on I-10, back on I-20, no more than six weeks, with a stop in Kanab, Utah, at Dogtown. When we decide we’ll post it here.
Thanks for joining us on our trip. Now it’s your turn!

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