A Very Unparked Domain

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Road Report: Dusty!

Strong winds and a lot of dust as we drove west on Route 66 through Arizona towards Winona and Flagstaff this week.

Dust-obscured view from Highway 66 westbound through Arizona

View from Highway 66 westbound through Arizona

Makes me glad we’re not on a motorcycle this time. Or a horse.

October 28, 2009   5 Comments    trackback

Snow Weasles

We are snow weasles. We have gone to GREAT lengths on this trip to avoid snow.


  • I filled my lifetime quota for snow and cold during the 4 years I lived in Montreal.
  • Neil is from the South. That’s the capital-S South. He’s a great driver, but I still don’t see any need to put him into winter driving conditions.
  • We don’t have snow tires on the Mini.
  • Our whole trip is about seeking out optimum climates for my health. At this point, snow isn’t what we’re looking for.
  • The best reasons of all: because we can.

In our first year on the road, we packed two sets of suitcases: our really warm weather clothes, and our luke-warm weather clothes (i.e., long sleeves and long pants). And we’d winter in relatively temperate climes.

In spring and fall, we’d make a trip past our storage unit and swap out the suitcases. The system worked out well, except that our annual counterclockwise migration pattern was turning into a figure-eight shape necessitated by the twice annual trip to Virginia.

This year we decided to be daring!

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October 27, 2009   4 Comments    trackback

Beer by the Yard

The English may have the occasional yard-of-ale, but St. Paul has worked out the innovation of ale-the-occasional-yard. We saw these barflies pedaling their lagers on the street, and instantly thought of a couple of our shall-remain-nameless friends.

Mmmm . . . beer and excercise...

Mmmm . . . beer and exercise...

Handled correctly, it could solve the driving-home problem, the beer-requires-exercise problem, the same-old-bar problem, and a host of others. Simultaneously. Brilliant!!!

October 13, 2009   2 Comments    trackback

A Side of Elk

Apologies for the erroneous posts, those who received them. For those who didn’t–and by way of explanation–I modified some code in the back end of the blog, and our web host moved to a new update-engine, so I moved the blog into it. Somewhere along the line, it published a post that it shouldn’t have, and then republished a post from last year, allowing the Coburg Cow to escape again. Here’s an apology photo.

Some Elk on the Side

Some Elk on the Side (click for larger)

To continue the “horned animals” theme, it’s a picture we took of a herd of Elk on a railroad siding on the side of a hill, just outside of Medora, North Dakota. At least, I think they’re elk. I’m from white-tail country: if they’re big ferrets, or anything, let me know.

October 9, 2009   3 Comments    trackback

Farewell Taj Mahopolis

It’s late. We should be sleeping. Instead we are packing up to leave after an extended stay in Indianapolis.

It’s something of an emotional farewell.

Before we arrived in Indiapolis, we booked several nights online at a hotel that, for reasons that are about to become clear, I won’t mention by name.

Normally we book the absolutely cheapest room we can find–at least the cheapest room that is non-smoking, includes Internet access so Neil can log into work, and seems half-way clean and safe.

Based on these high criteria, we have managed to stay in some doozies.

“The cheapest room in town” is quite often under an Interstate, or in an industrial park, or surrounded by strip malls. We wind up staying in neighbourhoods that are conveniently located for travelers seeking payday loans, Harley Davisdon accessories and tattoos, but not necessarily for finding independently-owned organic vegetarian cafes or going for a nice walk. Then again, we’ve stayed in rooms for as little as $28/night. For safety and vegetables, you pay extra.

So, following standard protocol, we booked a cheap hotel room, sight-unseen.

At extended stay hotels, we usually stay in a very modest studio room. This particular property only had smoking studios available when we booked, but they had a great deal of a non-smoking Queen Suite, so we nabbed it.

And when we arrived, we fell in love.

This “suite” is bigger than several of the apartments we’ve lived in. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean this is big: our first apartment was a studio of about 400 square feet. Unlike most apartments we’ve lived in, the suite’s kitchen has counter space. (Who builds all these kitchens with no counter space? They drive me crazy.) And there’s more storage space than the house my family lived in when my brother and I were babies.

There’s even a pull-out sofa!

Okay, the presence of a sofa may not impress you luxury travelers out there, but you have to picture a typical day for us in a hotel studio: Neil is sitting on the only chair in the room programming all day, which leaves me sitting on the bed, ALL DAY. I don’t mind; I’m bed-oriented. I’d go so far as to say that beds are my natural habitat. But to be in a suite with a sofa, and be able to get out the bed and sit on actual furniture during the day…I’m telling you, it is the lap of luxry.

We checked into the room and we were awestruck. We rhapsodized about the size, the space, the sweet spectacular splendour of it all.

In my family, when you really love something, you give it a name. (Or when you loathe it. Or sometimes when you’re luke-warm on it. We’re pretty big on naming, now that I think about it.) Neil and I cast about for a name for the hotel. We started to call it the “Taj Mahal,” in deference to the pinnacle of luxury it represents.

But “Taj Mahal” is already taken (obviously), and the name just seemed inadequate.

And then Neil had a stroke of brilliance: we could combine “Taj Mahal” and “Indianapolis” to make “Taj Mahapolis.”

And thus the monicker was born.

Why won’t I reveal to you the actual name of the Taj Mahopolis?

Once we were here a few days, we noticed the stink of garbage in the halls, the TGI-Fridays level of customer service, the deeply frightening stain on the boxspring. The furniture is chipped, the baseboards are scuffed, the wallpaper seams are peeling. The decor is a depressing mixture of sad beiges and washed-out blues. In short: it’s the kind of hotel that men check into when their wives kick them out for having an affair. A real up-beat kind of place.

And even factoring in the smell, the drab interior, the lackluster service: it is still one of the nicest places we have stayed in a year. Which Neil and I find hysterical. As dumpy as it is, it’s the Taj Mahopolis to us.

Tomorrow we check out and head to Peoria, on our way to Minnesota. The Taj Mahopolis has been good to us. We will miss it.

I hope, no matter what your circumstances in life may be, that you can always enjoy the Taj Mahopoli that come your way.

July 24, 2009   9 Comments    trackback

365 days on the road

Today marks the completion of our first full year on the road.

Not bad for a trip that started off as a plan for a one week ride in a U-haul truck.

We continue to find that we are having so much fun living stories that we struggle to make time to write them down and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

As we build up more health, get better at road trip living, and inject a greater measure of sanity into our itinerary (5000 miles in 5 weeks gets a little nuts), we hope to get more updates here on the site.

In the meantime, we are having the time of our lives!

Good wishes for good mileage to all of you,

Shaula & Neil

June 30, 2009   9 Comments    trackback

Visual Flight Rules

We have come to rely heavily on our BlackBerry as a navigation tool. We use Garmin GPS Navigation software and Google Maps Mobile on the BlackBerry every day. We also use the BlackBerry web browser to look up accommodations, restaurants that work with our diet restrictions, gas stations, etc. And it has been really handy for keeping track of lists like our food allergies. The BlackBerry has turned out to be a wonderful and convenient travel tool for us. And we’re about to lose it.

When we cross the border into Canada, we have to shut the BlackBerry off and take the battery out so we don’t get hit with outrageous international roaming charges.

Suddenly we’re on visual flight rules. How exciting!

I was promoted to my family’s designated navigator in elementary school, so I am perfectly happy working with a paper map. In a pinch, Neil and I have navigated on this trip using the simplified maps in travel coupon books, the zoomed out maps in hotel chain directories, and the cartoon maps on promotional placemats. We like to make the most of the tools at hand.

“Eyeballing it” works out fine for highway driving, but gets a little more exciting when we’re in traffic in the heart of a big city. We do our best to time our travel for off-peak traffic hours, and that helps to some extent.

What losing the BlackBerry means for me as the navigator, over and above losing electronic maps and voice prompts, is that I now get to front-load my work. Every night, I’ll be preparing for the next day by researching (gluten-free) restaurants, facilities, etc., on the Internet, looking up directions, etc. I do a lot of that kind of preparation even when we do use the BlackBerry, so it isn’t a big change for me. I’m all in favour of “spontaneous” and unplanned travel, in theory–it just becomes a little impractical when you are traveling with any kind of health, physical, or dietary limitations. You know what they say: a navigator’s work is never done.

Going VFR is exciting, and I know we’ll manage just fine, especially if I can stay awake long enough at night to do the next day’s prep.

It’s just that losing the BlackBerry feels just a little bit like sailing off the end of the world.

And doesn’t every traveler want to feel that way sometime?

June 12, 2009   1 Comment    trackback

The Scenic Route

Who travels from Charleston (South Carolina) to Montreal by way of Albuquerque? We do!

In the past 4 weeks we’ve covered almost 5000 miles. We drove from Charleston, South Carolina to Richmond, Virginia to change out our winter clothes for summer clothes, then headed east directly to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

We fell in love with the place, and had hoped to rest up and and heal me up a little before my brother’s wedding, but it turned out that the Southwest had one of the wettest months of May on record (2 1/2 times annual rainfall averages), and it rained the WHOLE time we were there! How’s that for luck! We’re thinking of renting ourselves out to drought-stricken farmers at a profit …

Last Wednesday we left Albuquerque and scooted back East to New York; we’ve been in Syracuse since Monday night.

Friday we head across the border to Ottawa, and then to Montreal on Saturday.

Our mileage does indeed vary.

June 12, 2009   3 Comments    trackback


I was already aware that New York and Toronto are under seige by bed bugs, but I only just discovered that Montreal is also beset by the dreaded punaises.

My understanding is that bed bugs are not snobs and do not discriminate between four-star and no-star hotels: going upscale and paying more money doesn’t guarantee you’ll avoid getting eaten alive.

I am researching and reading travel reviews much more thoroughly than normal. I really don’t want to check my parents into La Casa del Scratch.

When you’re booking your own accommodations, how do you figure out whether a hotel has bed bugs?

If anyone has good advice on how to verify in advance that a (Montreal) hotel is bug-free, I would love your help!

May 21, 2009   11 Comments    trackback

The Zen of Travel Shock

We are traveling to Montreal in June for a family wedding. This afternoon I started looking up prices on Montreal hotels.

In one tab I was consulting a Montreal metro map. In a second tab I was checking out McGill summer accommodations, my alma mater, which I highly recommend for some of the lowest cost rooms in downtown Montreal. I was also comparing information from a number of travel websites including hotels.com, venere.com, and tripadvisor.com (all of which we recommend).

In my mind, I was walking along the streets of Montreal, remembering the years I lived there as a student, thinking about all the museums and restaurants and little shops I looked forward to sharing with my parents…

And then Neil told me the time was running out on the parking meter, and Whoosh! I was transported through time and space! Instead of walking down Rue Sherbrooke in Montreal in the late 1980’s, I found myself teleported to the Nob Hill Flying Star Cafe on Central Avenue in Albuquerque 20 years in the future. Wow!

It was completely mind-bending. And completely disorienting.

And it is one of the things I love about travel: being totally and utterly shocked at the realization that right now, at this very moment, I am where I am.

May 20, 2009   3 Comments    trackback