iscribblings

Charting life's circuitous path


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10:30 am Rapid Ride

seattleThe tall, triumphant, disk rising to blue swathed heavens
competing with steel, glass and the footsteps of thousands.
Bundles of bright blooms, bags of earthy produce,
spontaneous showers of protest
rights, rights for all! rights for me and you and them!
subdued to a murmur of energy as water
ebbs and crests with the caws of black, ancient eyes.
A hazy peak slides in and out of life’s daily chores –
majestic, grand, eternally situated at the corner of the eye.
Sweet, peanut layered toast mornings
Filled with pre-run milky tea reflections.
To be there is to be caught in a daze
a high that reaches to gray snowy caps
with the sea tugging us down.
Stay, just a little longer.
Rise high with us just a little bit more.
Stand tall with the tips of the marching trees
along the highway that takes you into the emerald city.

 

Two weeks after our vacation to Seattle, I’m finally coming back down to my Midwestern reality.  Our weeks have been filled with post-break appointments and chores as daily life comes back in full force.  I want to end my Seattle series with a few last tips.  If you ever plan on taking a break to Seattle, here’s a few things we’ve learned:

  1. Rent a vacation home for a real city experience.  Our rental home was cheaper than any hotel and it was well stocked and felt like home every time we came back from a full day of sightseeing.  It’s definitely the way we’re going to plan our vacations from now on.  Just be sure to shop around a bit to find the best deal and the best location.
  2. In amongst the ins and outs, the goings on of every day sightseeing, take breaks.  LOTS of breaks.  With coffee and preferably a nice sweet bun on the side.  Those are the moments that you’ll really remember because life seeps into your skin and you absorb not only the moment, but the day-to-day life of the city.  Some of my favorite moments were when we stopped, sipped at a cup and watched life walk by.
  3. Be prepared to be surprised.  We knew that Seattle was known for being progressive and socially conscious, but we didn’t know just how nice the people would be.  Strangers would ask us if we needed directions on the street.  Overworked grocery store clerks were efficient and nice as they trusted us when we told them the price of our unscannable cheese.  Even bus operators chatted over the intercom about the weather and wished us a great weekend at the end of a Friday!  If a city that gets rain 9 months out of the year can still be happy, then why can’t the rest of us?  A smile and a friendly face makes life easier, nicer and welcoming.
  4. You will eat and you will eat a lot.  Be ready to put your diet on a brief hold (unless you have a will of iron) but make sure that you’re still taking every opportunity to exercise and eat only what you’ll not regret.  I experienced some of my best runs on vacation as I ran along wide sidewalks, past succulents and mountain skies.  I ate some of the best food and while I regret the extra pounds, I don’t regret the wonderful flavors that crossed my tongue.  Taste and smell are both critical aspects of memory.  When that museum fades into the misty shadows of memory, the joy of sinking teeth into a sweet, chewy bun will not.

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The Seattle Series: Episode 2 – There’s no place like home

Growing up, my family used to stay in motel rooms on our two day driving trips to see my grandparents. The rooms always smelled faintly of smoke and seemed perpetually smudged around the edges.  Before we even got to the door, my mother would issue warnings to not touch anything.  She’d immediately whip out the cleaning kit and set to work wiping down surfaces until she saw them fit enough to touch (even then we’d still wear shower flip flops in the bathroom).  It wasn’t like we were staying in a roach motel, but her frequent cautioning meant that I grew up viewing hotel rooms with a deep suspicion. So it’s no surprise that when I think about staying in a hotel for two weeks a shiver of disgust runs down my spine. I imagine the bedbugs, the germs, the stray hairs and it makes my gross meter explode.  😯

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What my hubby looks like when he stays at a hotel.

My hubby is the opposite. He can settle right into a space just fine without worrying about what might be lurking on the doorknob. While I’m tiptoeing around to minimize feet to carpet contact, he’s right at home with shoes kicked off. (I used to ask him about shower shoes, but the quirked eyebrow had me packing only one pair.  I don’t ask him anymore.)  I’m envious of his nonchalance, his carefree nature because if I could settle more easily into a room like he can, then I’d probably be less wound up.

Let’s just say that our two week vacation to Seattle was causing me no little amount of stress. Hubby never gets excited about vacation planning, so I knew I was on my own. I wanted to pick out a nice, clean place with great reviews. Just like with my car rental, I started at the most obvious – Expedia.

My best friend lives smack dab in the middle of Seattle. Convenient, yes, cheap, no. Double occupancy hotel room prices ranged from $200 – $500 a night, and we’re not talking the Ritz here. Seeing as how we were going to be meeting up with hubby’s mother and her partner, we didn’t relish spending at least $2800 on lodging per couple. I wanted somewhere clean and nice, but I also didn’t want to spend our entire savings just to save my hubby the frustration of seeing me grimace any time he touched a faucet.

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And then there’s me . . .

So, I started thinking. Whenever we visited our relatives in England and went traveling with them, they’d rent a house. A whole house. We’d all have rooms, a shower and a kitchen to sit and chat and drink tea.  So I googled vacation houses to see if there were houses to rent just for vacations.

And found Homeaway.com.

It’s a website that lists the homes owners rent to travelers, usually with the caveat that you’ll be staying at least a few days. Unlike hotels or motels, you get the entire place, the yard (if it has one) and conveniences like a kitchen and laundry. (There are other sites out there, too, like VRBO and Flipkey.  Some houses actually still have the owners living in them, so double check to make sure in case rooming isn’t your thing.)

There were cute bungalows, townhouses and even beach studio pads! Every entry came with a list of amenities and pictures, and I spent weeks looking at house after house making a list of all the possibilities. We wanted something cheap (definitely under $200), would sleep four adults, have WiFi (there’s no way we’d be having a good time without it) and air conditioning.  Not too demanding, right?  😉  When I asked my friend about the air conditioning,  her husband laughed out loud.  Apparently people in Seattle don’t do air conditioning, but with our luck, it’ll be the hottest summer on record so I wasn’t taking any chances!

Even though I was beginning to go spare with all of my searching, it finally paid off! We nabbed a very cute house located in West Seattle, within 2 miles of Alki beach, and it has everything we want: 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a laundry room, WiFi, parking and air conditioning. The pictures of the house looked both cute, comfortable but above all CLEAN. I could imagine staying here and not worrying about whose feet touched the floor. In fact, I could imagine myself living here.

The price was also right. For our two week stay, our party of four adults will cost us $1600! That’s $800 a couple for two weeks! I can’t exclamation point enough!! Even if we were going by ourselves, we still would have saved at least half the cost of a regular hotel room. Another perk? You could pay the owners with PayPal so your credit information stays safe.

If you’re going on vacation, just like with rental cars, take another look at your options. Instead of paying for a hotel (whose prices include the room cleaning and desk operator costs), see if a house is in your future. Surprisingly, you have a lot of choices when it comes to accommodations and it pays to look around.

I’ll post a review of the property once our vacation is over. Until then, I’ll make sure to only pack one pack of cleaning wipes. 😉


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The Seattle Series: Episode 1 – Car Rentals

In a month, we’ll be visiting Seattle for the first time and I’m beyond excited. :mrgreen:  This post is the first in a series on traveling to Seattle.  (I know, I start off with a real thriller!)seattle

Ah, Seattle!  The water, the coffee, the needle!  Not only do we get to see friends and family, but we get to explore a city that has been on my “go to” list for years.  I’ve trekked through multiple tourist websites and blogs focused on gleaming out the best of the city – the museums, bakeries, coffee shops, city tours and of course the numerous beautiful parks.

In amongst all of the fun planning and researching, we’ve been looking up rental cars.

While we realize that actually traveling with a car in downtown Seattle is more hassle than its worth (Frommers has a good article about this), we do plan to travel up to Vancouver and down to Mt. St. Helens.  We’ve rented cars before when our own car needed fixing, so we aren’t total newbies, but we had never rented a car for vacation.

Hey, I’m savvy! Bring it on!  😎

Little did I know that I was about to learn differently. . .

Cue Twilight Zone music

You are about to enter another dimension,

a dimension not only of sneaky fees and extra small print but of insanity.

A journey into a nightmare land of terms and restrictions.

Next stop, the Car Rental Zone!

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No, I didn’t look like this before I began renting a car.

Navigating through the fine details involved in renting a car can make you feel like you’ve slipped into a different universe.  There are the countless acronyms, scary sounding insurance plans and the sheer cost of hiring a car to contend with before you even settle on which company to trust (as much as you might trust a 10 foot starving python, anyway).

So, I started like everyone else by searching Expedia.  Then I searched Priceline, then Hotwire, and ultimately Happy Cars.  Notice the trend? I was getting desperate.  The rates were horribly high and even the mother of a used car salesman would balk at the “deals”.

There were so many fees and taxes that my eyes crossed and don’t even mention the numerous restrictions.  I spent more than a few hours looking up rates and reading up on advice.  I asked a LOT of questions (a big thank you to you-know-who-you-are!) and finally started to get some answers.

In the end, we actually discovered quite a few things that helped us nab a car at a decent rate!

So, if you want to rent a car and it’s your first time, here are the fruits of my labor.  Perhaps they’ll help you in your quest for the best deal!  🙂

Tips for Renting a Car

A couple caveats before I begin: One, I assume you’re over 25 and two, you’re living in the US. Also, this is all based on experience – take it for what it is.

  • Begin by checking whether or not your current auto and health insurance covers rental cars and if so, how much. If your car insurance doesn’t, check your credit cards.  Some offer coverage while others don’t. Also see what you’re covered for while you’re at it – in case it’s very skimpy and doesn’t cover beans.

Why?  You can skip paying the CDW (Collision Damage Waiver), SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance) and LDW (Loss Damage Waiver) – depending on your coverage.  LDW can cost nearly $30 a day and most of the waivers and insurance protections they try to sell you are covered by either your health insurance, car insurance or credit card.  We’re covered for everything they’re trying to sell, so we’re saving hundreds of dollars by declining.

(Another tip:  double check what you’re signing when you arrive to make sure that they don’t opt you back in under your nose.)

  • Next, check if you can rent a car somewhere other than the airport.  Not all cities are people friendly, but if you’re going to a place like Seattle, be aware that there’s a rail link that takes you straight downtown where you can rent your car.

Why?  You pay a fraction of the cost that the same company will charge at the airport.  The reason seems to be the fee that they tack on from the location – the airport seems to charge a lot more than, say, a hotel for the privilege to rent a car.  The company we went with wanted to charge a bit over $1000 for a two week rental, but the same company was asking $600 if you went downtown.  Seeing as how the rail ticket costs about $2, you can guess what route we’re going to take!

  • Finally, comparison shop, but also look into other avenues to save.  Are you a member of a club?  See if they give you discounts on rentals.  Does your work place offer you savings as an employee?  Check it out!  Do you even need the car for the entire stay?  If not, book for a shorter time!

Why?  You can get a great deal.  Our work place is a member of Motivano and so we can get a deal through them on a weekly rental – $36 a day.  The same car without the discount would have cost us $58 a day!  More cups of coffee for us!  Plus, Seattle happens to have a good public transit system, so for the first week, we plan to take the bus and walk rather than pay for not only the car but the parking fees (which can be $30 a day).  This will save us at least half the rate, if not more.

It can definitely be daunting to rent a car, but once you educate yourself about your destination and do a bit of research on your option, you can feel confident about your choice.

Oh, yes, one more suggestion: Don’t go for the cheapest car out there.  We found that there were slightly cheaper rates than the one we got from other companies, but some of those companies charged for your spouse to drive and others wouldn’t let us into Canada.  Most of those companies also had bad ratings on sites like Yelp.  So definitely read the fine print on their terms and conditions.  If they aren’t clear, then I’d suggest renting from a company that isn’t afraid to spell it all out.

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Wheeeeee! Now that’s a happy car!