Grant McWilliams

Travel Trip Journals

Journals

Trip journals are trip specific blogs. That is a blog about a specific trip that I've taken. I have them ordered first item first which is backward from a typical blog because it makes it easier to read about the trip from start to finish. Granted that also makes it more difficult to read the latest news when I'm on vacation because the most recent entry (the last one) will be last. But, since most people don't actually get around to reading the Trip Journal until after I'm back I think that will be ok.

Also there's a ton of them missing, this article will explain why.

Day 4 - Lyon

So I woke up a bit better off than I went to bed. After our early morning croissants we headed out to find a pharmacy for Immodium or Pepto. I think France is full of hypocondriacs because pharmacies are everywhere. Actually a pharmacy there is more like a drug store is here where you can get your contact solution, tyllanol and perscription drugs in one place. We search the first pharmacy and find an empty shelf where the immodium should have been and a sign that says diarrhea which lets me know what to look for in the future. The next three pharmacies were closed and the fourth a hole in the wall had it behind the counter. The Pharmacy tech was able to speak a few words of English and tell me not to take more than 6 and with that we were off.

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Day 3 - sick in Lyon

Today I'm sick, no it wasn't the hamburger. We did't really venture out much as I resemble an inverted Old Faithful from Yellowstone park. I got croissants for breakfast, took pictures of the Opera house and checked my email.

Before the Hotel office closed I was able to call our Concierge in Paris to see if it would be good if we came a day late. We really hadn't gotten to see Lyon at all because I wasn't feeling good and we were out of money.

Amy my bank manager got the money thing straightened away, raised my limit and my cards work now. I paid for another night. We need to get a hold of our Concierge in Paris to let him know when we're coming. I emailed the apartment owner in the states knowing he won't get the email until late. We decided to be kind to my stomach and eat at the Chinese restaurant on the corner where we proceeded to order way too much food. The dim sum was ok (not great) and the fried food appetizer was decent. After we walked forever looking for a grocery that had bottled water and after getting directions from a local settled on the togo window of McDonalds which had Evian. Armed with Evian we returned to the Hotel Iris and went to bed.

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Day 2 - to Lyon

So we've arrived in Paris at CDG and went through immigration without anyone stamping our passports. That's a little strange and we've never had that happen before. I can only assume that they thought we had chipped passports and the computer logged us. The very first thing we do when entering a foreign country (actually there are only foreign people...) is get local currency so our search for an ATM begins. The one on the arrivals level was broken so after walking the entire length of the terminal and not finding another we ask information which informs us theres one on the departures level two floors down. We walk the entire length of the departures level without finding one so we ask the United Airlines lady and she gives us directions. Ten minutes later we're equiped with 300 Euros which should get us into the city where we can buy our train ticket to Lyon.

We want to go to Lyon because we've discovered (like Colobus discovered America) the Institute of Paul Bocuse and Natalya is interested in going to school there instead of or in addition to Corden Bleu in Paris. Lyon is the culinary capital of France so most great chefs come out of there. Our plan is to visit the institute and get information on it and possibly eat in one of Paul Bocuse' restaurants of which he has 5.

We head to the SNCF booth to get RER tickets into the city. The RER trains are the suburban rail trains that service the burbs as we'd call them. The trip into the city will take about 30 minutes. We're approached by a man wanting to sell us shuttle tickets for $22 ea for a total of $88. Yeah right buddy. Our RER tickets cost us $50 which was still way more than I expected. I was thinking they'd be about $30 but it's the airport right so they're way overpriced. We've actually been to this RER station before two years ago when we went to Parc Asterix so we knew our way around a bit.

Half hour later we're at Chatalet station to catch the number 1 metro. The Chatalex/Les Halles station is my least favorite because it's a maze of passages and levels and you never know just where you are. We've had to pay to get into the station before and then walked so far we had to pay again to get further into the station. It never made sense to me. Sometimes I've wondered whether it would be easier to walk to the next station to catch the metro instead of venturing into the labyrinth. So we walked and walked and walked and never saw a ticket booth. I asked and someone told me go straight and then turn left. I walked and only saw turnstyles. I go back to where I'd left the kids and ask someone there and he says to go straight and turn left. Once again I only saw turnstyles. I realized we have to exit the RER section and enter the Metro section, as soon as we got this little tidbit we ran into a metro ticket booth where we bought one adulte carne and one enfant carne. We proceed to the metro where we never go through a turnstyle and never pay. Like I said this station doesn't make sense.

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Day 1

So as of Saturday we had our apartment and I'd scored plane tickets on Friday. The only date we could fly for a reasonable price was Sunday morning returning on Sept 2nd. If I wanted to fly on any other day it was going to cost me $2400 more for the 4 of us. That gave us one day to get ready, pack and to get as much work done as possible. I went to work while the kids packed the bags and made a list of things we needed. Things didn't go as well as planned at work and I left at 3:30 am and headed straight to Wallyworld to pick up what we needed for the trip. I left Walmart at 4:45, got home at 5 and woke everyone up. I finished packing at 6:00 and our friend Mo showed up to drive us to the airport.

We meandered toward Sea-tac airport at a comfortable pace but I wasn't worried as according to my calculations we would have 1hr 45min to get through security, get something to eat and board the plane. They recommend 2 hrs for international flights but we've squeezed this plenty of times before. On arrival to the airport we realized we didn't grab our daybag. Normally this wouldn't be a problem but this time in order to speed up our passage through security I put our boarding passes and passports in the daybag.

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Last minute decisions

As most of you know we are supposed to be in China/Southeast Asia right now. Actually we were supposed to be sitting at home now recovering from our Asian adventures. As a side effect of personal and technical problems associtated with my current work contract we were not able to leave on June 19th. By July 1st we were still hopeful and by August 1st we'd decided that we'd visit China for one month and return in the Winter for Southeast Asia. By August 10th we had accepted the fact that none of this was happening and we'd be lucky to go to Boring Oregon for vacation let alone somewhere foreign and exotic. I hadn't given up hope though and started studying the Baltic states and looking over VISA requirements for Russia because we could spend two weeks there and see quite a bit. Two weeks in China wouldn't have gotten us anywhere so it was out. My contract dragged and I finally decided to make our life easier and go somewhere we'd been before and what better place than France?

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BC - day one

img_1278The train north only leaves once a day and returns once a day so we didn't have a lot of choice when it came to time. That's ok because with it leaving at 8:30 we'd be getting into Vancouver at just before noon and the returning train would leave at 6:pm which would give us almost two more days that we wouldn't have to pay for accomodations. We had several choices of stations to leave from making us feel a bit like Goldilocks including Seattle (too far away), Edmonds (too small) and Everett (just right). Most of the Amtrak stations that I've been to on the west coast are dinky little shacks in the wrong part of town but Everett has built a brand new station that they're sharing with the Everett City transit and Greyhound. When (if) we ever get a commuter rail it too will service this station in addition to the 5 state colleges have classrooms upstairs. It really is a nice station and I took plenty of pictures of it.

The train up was comfortable and took about 3.5 hours. We didn't stop at the border because apparently the Canuks aren't nearly as paranoid as the Americans are when it comes to terrorists blowing up trees in the middle of nowhere. We arrived at Vancouver station at about 11:30 am and went through immigration easily enough. I brought custody papers and they asked me where "mom" was and I fumbled as I usually do. I finally said that I was the sole parent and they let us on through. The first thing that we did was find an ATM so we could have some Canadian spending cash on us. There were taxis waiting out front so we told them to take us to the Victorian Hotel . About  5 minutes and 7 Canadian dollars later we arrive and are greeted by a lady with a strong French accent.

It was a beautiful sunny day and she urged us to put our stuff in our room and head directly to Stanley park which I had planned to see the next day. After checking Saturday's weather she said we should go right away. We dropped our bags in our very nice old room, got our bearings and took off. The bus was supposed to pick us up at the end of the block so we waited there. Another bus came by and asked us what we were waiting for and then informed us that the routes had changed because of the work being done on the subway. He then volunteered to take us to the correct stop which he did. The correct stop was in front of the revolving restaurant that you see in a lot of pictures of Vancouver. Strangely the buses don't take dollar bills so we went downstairs to a souvenir shop and bought a $1 bookmark with a $10 bill. This gave us plenty of coins for the next bus. We went back to street level and the bus pulled up immediately. Fifteen minutes later we are at the entrance to Stanley Park and Piper won't stop asking if we can ride bikes so we set out to find bike rentals.


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Transportation

So we've decided to go to Vancouver BC and we need to get there. There are several ways of doing thisimg_1292
  1. Greyhound Bus
  2. Amtrak Bus
  3. Car
  4. Amtrak Train
  5. Ferry to Victoria, Ferry to Vancouver
The first is out on the account that I'm not into torture especially when I'm the one being tortured. Amtrak Buses aren't too bad but really if you have the choice of riding a train or a bus which would you choose? Maybe you don't know because you've never ridden trains but let me tell you there is no comparison. A coach seat in a train is about the same size as a business class seat on an airplane. A seat on a Greyhound bus is worse than a 2nd class airplane ticket - you decide. The fifth choice is a great one but I took it out because of time constraints. That leaves two choices - drive or ride the train. The cheapest would be to drive my car to Vancouver but the problem I have with that is my car has a lot of miles on it and who knows how much longer it will last. Ok, so I can rent a car for the weekend which ends up costing about $40 more than the train plus I need to pay for parking once I get there. So my two choices are rent a car, spend 6 hrs driving, have to find a place to park it in the city, sit in line at the border for customs checks, worry about convincing the rental car agency to let me cross the border, convince the border people that it's ok to take a rental car across or walk onto a spacious train, watch the beautiful Pacific Coast scenery (not seen in a car) and cross the border stress free. Hmm, not hard to decide. Having said all of this if you can drive it will still be faster and cheaper than the train.

There's just something about trains though that make you feel like you're further from home.
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Planning

Originally I was going to take all of Spring Break and do a Northwest trip that included Seattle, Victoria B.C. and Vancouver B.C.  Image but my project at work is dragging on so I only had a few days left of it for holiday so we decided to just spend it in Vancouver. I figured that it was close enough that we could come back later if we liked it. Since I did the research for the whole Seattle->Victoria->Vancouver->Seattle trip I will be putting that Itinerary up on this site later for others to follow. That section of course doesn't even exist yet (but it will).

So I've lived in the Pacific Northwest on and off for 17 years and I've never been to British Columbia. For those of you who don't know it's only a couple hour drive from Seattle. So why haven't I ever packed a picnic lunch, got in the car and driven to Canada? Well, when I first moved here I had other pressing issues (no money, no interest), then later after I moved to Seattle I was busy experiencing Seattle and the U.S. side of the border like the Olympic Penninsula. Once I started traveling I would climb on an airplane and fly halfway around the world and not even think about BC. British Columbia got neglected.

There is another reason I never went there - similarity. I've met quite a few Canadians over the years and they all resemble us (Americans) for the most part. When I started traveling I wanted to go to foreign lands, not the Canadian side of Washington. I feared Canada would be too much like the U.S. to warrent any serious travel. Canada in my opinion was for inexperienced travelers that couldn't make it in Paris or Istanbul.

So I originally planned on spending a week somewhere because my kids were out of school for Spring break. Not knowing what was going to happen at my job in the near future (like whether I'd have any money or not) I decided on going somewhere close. That means Portland, Spokane, Seattle, Victoria or Vancouver. I live in Seattle so obviously that's out, I've spent enough time in Spokane to know you don't want to be there in the winter and it's not that great anyway in comarison to the others, Portland is getting old since we've been there quite a lot. At this point the hilight to Portland is ice skating in the mall! So that brings us to Victoria and Vancouver - the northwestern cities oft neglected by me.

As I said I had planned on spending a week in the two cities but project overruns at work meant I was only going to have a few days. That cut out one of the cities and since Vancouver is easier to get to (and larger) we decided to name it the winner and give the runners-up prize to Victoria. I did however, plan the whole Victoria/Vancouver trip so I'll be finalizing itineraries and uploading them to this site in time. Later we'll do it as I planned.


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Mexico 2006 - Day 9

Today we took a tour to Mitla, Santa Maria del Tula, Hierva el Agua and a few other places. I had wanted to go to Mitla but my guidebook didn´t tell me how because it´s about 50 km down the road. Thankfully our hotel Casa Arnel had a tour again in a suburban for 300 pesos. This ended up being about $120 all together but everyone in the family thinks it was a good deal. I almost didn´t take the tour and just stay around the hotel because Piper was slowly getting sicker and I thought it would be dumb to risk her health just to see something that has been there for 2000 years and will still be there the rest of my life but she woke up in better shape than she was when she went to bed so we went.First stop was Santa Maria del Tula which is a small town with a tree. Since Mexico has about a billion towns called Santa Maria they have to give each one a last name too. So since this town used to have a bog filled with Tula plants the name ended up being Santa Maria del Tula. In this bog also was a cyprus tree. It needs a lot of water so the bog was a perfec place for it to plant it´s roots. Problem is the bog dried up after about 1950 years and the tree was still alive.


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Plane tickets

We up late and missed breakfast so we decided to split off and Jade and I would walk to TAME and get the plane tickets and Mo and Natalya would head for the internet where we would meet up with them. We got to the TAME office and like true Americans we forgot that the rest of the world takes really long lunches so we had an hour and a half to wait so after picking up a hotdog we headed back across the river to the internet cafe and met up with the others. After rejoining we needed to kill time so we headed for the little Zoo inside a building that had mysterious and strange creatures of Ecuador. It's a little shop run bimg_0833y a guy and what appeared to be his daughter. They had the ugliest looking turtle in the world (matamata turtle) as well as an Anaconda skin, a Crocodile and a bunch of fish including Piranhas. The only thing separating the crocodile and us was a small bridge about 2 feet off the ground. He didn't look interested in us and actually looked very depressed as he had about 20 feet of room to move in is all. Mo spent most of her time freaked out because we went in a section where the lights were all off and our 15 year old guide had a flashlight.

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