A Very Unparked Domain
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Category — Road Stories

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

Snow Weasles

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

Why?

  • 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   5 Comments

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

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

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

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

Live from New Mexico

View from historic Route 66, westbound from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque

View from historic Route 66, westbound from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque

We have finally arrived in Albuquerque. We are here a few months and several thousand miles later than we expected and we couldn’t be happier.

Details to follow. (As soon as we catch our breath!)


Picture taken with Neil’s RIM BlackBerry 8330 camera phone, May 17, 2009.

Map of where this picture was taken: Santa Rosa to Albuquerque

May 18, 2009   7 Comments

Live from Little Rock

We’re going through our morning routine right now (washing, eating, programming) in an Extended Stay America (again) in Little Rock, Arkansas, gearing up for another big driving day.

We had a good visit with our sister-in-law Paige, our nephew Tyler, and Paige’s mom Donna in Seymour, Tennessee on Thursday, but Paige and Tyler both have hacking coughs (or, in Paige’s words, “the crud”), so we got a little room in Knoxville for the night. (It was enough of a dump that we won’t be reviewing it, but we sure got a great price on the room!)

Paige has been trying to take us to take us to The Old Mill restaurant in Pigeon Forge ever since we visited last fall: we tried twice last year, and every time the wait for a table was well over an hour, sometimes as long as two. Thursday was our third try, and maybe because we had Donna along for good luck, we finally got to eat there. You order your own entree and the sides are served family-style, in big bowls for the table to share. Dinner was very reasonably priced and included a bowl of their house corn chowder, green salad, corn fritters, and a choice of three deserts. While this might not be an optimal dining location for vegetarians or people with restricted diets, we managed just fine. (My heart goes out to vegetarians in the South, it truly does.) Take a look at The Old Mill recipe page if you want to try some Tennessee country cooking at home.

(Pigeon Forge sports possibly the highest billboard density of anywhere I’ve ever traveled; after driving along tree-upholstered interstates for several days in a row, the contrast is a little over-stimulating.)

We managed to put in 8 hours of driving yesterday, traversing almost the full width of Tennessee. After a full day of map reading, the Tennessee’s trapezoidal shape really reminds of the Pink Pearl erasors we had when I was in elementary school.

We started the day with breakfast in a Knoxville Cracker Barrel. Not familiar with Cracker Barrel? Just like Piggly Wiggly, you really have to see it first hand to believe it. We’ll write more on Cracker Barrel in a future post. (More on our dietary restrictions in a future post, too.) Suffice to say that trying to eat a gluten-free, corn-free, meat-free breakfast at a restaurant that prides itself on its generous portions of biscuits, cornbread and pork products is a great way to avoid over-eating.

We stopped in Nashville for an Indian vegetarian buffet lunch at Woodlands. I realize that vegetarian Indian food is a far cry from typical local cuisine, but we are rapidly approaching our lifetime quota of Cracker Barrel meals, we were craving vegetables, and accommodating our dietary restrictions on the road can be very challenging. The food was great, and their dosas (rice crepes) were amazing, even if Neil wound up with a very limited number of dishes he could eat.

(Why are there so many Indian buffet restaurants named Woodlands? I’ve eaten at oodles but I’ve never figured out why the name is so common. Does anyone know?)

We drove straight through Memphis, over the Mississippi River, into Arkansas, and on to Little Rock. (We’ve visited Memphis before, years ago, and since we’re trying to make good driving time right now we didn’t feel compelled to stop this time around.)

We enjoyed a light, if late, Turkish dinner in Little Rock at Istanbul Mediterranean–and throughout the meal thought of our friend Sean-Paul Kelly who is in Turkey at the moment. SP, if our menu last night was in any way representative of Turkish food, I am newly and even more deeply jealous of your trip!

There was so much severe rain and thunderstorms predicted for Tenessee yesterday that we thought we might have to put pontoons on the Mini to clear the state. We were delighted to discover that, even in some fairly heavy rains, the humidity felt lower than in Charleston or Richmond. The weather also feels subjectively much cooler without the humidity: yesterday we were stretching our legs in an Arkansas rest stop and felt comfortably cool, even though it was 91 degrees.

Yesterday’s drive represents the early stages of a 5,000 mile odyssey we have planned for the next five weeks. (More on that soon, too.) We are pleased and excited to see how well we are falling back into our heavy-travel routines, and remembering and relearning “how to do travel”.
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May 16, 2009   2 Comments

Feels like travel already

After a six-month stopover in Charleston, we’ve unchocked our wheels and hit the road again.

And it feels GREAT.

We checked out of the Mt Pleasant Extended Stay America, ate a fantastic brunch at the Glass Onion in West Ashley, snuck in one more visit with Neil’s mom in Summerville, grabbed a bottle of water from the Piggly Wiggly, and headed North on I-95.

  • The Extended Stay America was a great place to stay. Until I tried to cook a duck breast for Neil–what possessed me? No one knows–and the smoke set off the hotel fire alarm. We now refer to the hotel as the House of Burning Duck. We suspect “duck flambĂ©” may not catch on in the aromatherapy world. But we do recommend the hotel.
  • The Glass Onion is one of our favourite places to eat in the Charleston area. They serve healthy, balanced meals of Low Country and Louisiana cuisine prepared with produce from local farms, fresh caught fish, and hormone-free meats. The portions are generous without being obscene and provide great value for the price. They have wonderful, friendly staff (Brian! We’re talking about you!) and they even give you crayons so you can draw on the brown paper table cloths. The menu changes daily and somehow they find the time to update it every day on their website. Every meal we’ve ever eaten was fabulous. They have been completely accommodating in making substitutions for our bizarrely restricted diets: good place for non-dairy, gluten-free, and vegetarian; limited but possible for vegan. The Glass Onion is about everything we could hope for in a restaurant.
  • Canadians’ first and only contact with the Piggly Wiggly in most cases seems to stem from the movie Driving Miss Daisy. I had no idea the store was real, and Neil was amazed at how ecstatic I was to see one the first time I can down to visit his family. When we brought my parents to visit Charleston, we made a special trip to “the Pig” (as its known locally) so they could take pictures of it and get plastic and paper bags to take home. Doesn’t everyone make pilgrimages to grocery stores when they travel? We’ve also taken a grocery bag from a Food Lion as a gift for friends in Montreal…so maybe the grocery store obsession is a Canadian thing. The Pig also offers a range of Piggly Wiggly merchandise. I wonder if my brother registered there for his wedding?

So far today we’ve driven half way from Charleston, South Carolina to Richmond, Virginia. We’re getting reaquainted with our gear, our travel gadgets, and our driving protocols (e.g., parking a car full of heat-sensitive vitamins in the shade).

We pulled over in Lumberton, North Carolina for dinner, and put our navigation and on-the-fly restaurant research skills to the test. We discovered that…we’re a little rusty in that department. We won’t be reviewing the restaurant we ate at (because our mothers taught only to say nice things), but after a few false starts we did manage to discover one of the healthier eating options in the area and a meal that, while perhaps not Michelin-worthy, did fit our diet restrictions.

Right now we’re tucked into the independently-owned Four Oaks Lodging & RV Resort at Exit 90 of Interstate 95 near Smithfield, North Carolina: at $28/night, our super clean, no-smoking, free Wi-fi room is the best deal we’ve ever found on I-95.

We pulled in to Four Oaks just as the rain started coming down. We weren’t suprised: for the past 15 minutes I had been taking pictures of the amazing purple sunset through the Mini’s sunroof. We’ll try to post some of those next time we have a little energy–meaning not tonight!

To sum up, we’ve already hit adventures, bad food, cheap lodgings, bad weather, and at-speed sunroof photography, and we’ve only been on the road for a few hours!

It definitely feels like we’re traveling again.

May 9, 2009   10 Comments

Are We There Yet?

This trip started off on July 1 as a leisurely 2 week drive from Virginia to New Mexico.

Or so we thought.

We’ve now been on the road for almost 4 months, driven over 3000 miles, and visited 12 states and 1 province.

Click here to see a map of the approximate route we’ve driven to date.

After all that traveling, we’re in Charlotte, North Carolina: less than 300 miles from where we started, and over 1600 miles away from the capitol of New Mexico.

Our mileage has indeed varied.

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October 27, 2008   8 Comments