Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Accidental Tourist - Part One

No matter how much one prepares for a trip, somewhere along the line they become an accidental tourist. All the planning, notes, maps and internet research certainly help, but like having a baby, nothing prepares you for the actual experience.

For years, we have put together travel folders for our trips to competitions. These tomes have contained volumes of information and most likely killed enough trees to be partially responsible for global warming. They started out innocently enough: hotel information, public transportation and/or car rentals including maps on how to get from here to there; they included the all-important locations of every Starbucks within reasonable distance of hotel and rink. Sometimes, the pages grew to include information on the city itself  - the best being Birmingham, Alabama, where we learned more about the city than any other place we traveled over the years.
Enter Vancouver...

My wonderful husband went to Vancouver last February with our skater for Four Continents so he had a very good grasp on what to do, how to get from point A to B, and of course, the location of the nearest barista preparing grande coffee of the day - no room. So, when we started to prepare for our trip, it was only normal (still being a setting on your washing machine) that he would prepare a folder. This time, however, we had a few dynamics we had not dealt with before, namely a troop movement of family and extended family of varying ages and all staying under one roof - namely a condominium, not our usual hotel. Another dynamic was that we were not flying non-stop, but rather going through Seattle and then taking the Amtrak bus (yes, Amtrak has buses) for a three hour + commute to Vancouver. The final part of the equation: When we all gathered at Denver International Airport to fly Southwest Airlines, apparently everyone took them at their word that "bags fly free," because we looked like a family of refugees emigrating to Canada with no plan of returning to the USA. 

The "plan" was to arrive in Seattle and take the light rail to the Amtrak station. In theory, we had plenty of time to accomplish this. In reality, Southwest was delayed; we arrived late with too many bags and one person in our entourage who has difficulty walking. The light rail was not an option at that point. Plan A was out the window and we encountered our first of many experiences as Accidental Tourists.

Stepping outside of SEATAC, we needed a taxi that could hold all our bags and the four of us in comfort. No luck. As we wandered, watching watches tick away the departure time of the bus, up came a seemingly nice gentleman who suggested that for the same cost as a cab we could take a limousine to the Amtrak station. It was big enough to hold all our luggage and we could easily get in and out. My daughter jumped on the opportunity and we agreed that this might be the best thing to do. It was - for about 5 minutes.

Remember that I made mention in the prologue to GPS. This will be a recurring theme, so I am warning you now. 

There is a new phenomenon in this country: Cab drivers who do not know their own city. They have become so dependent on GPS systems getting them from one place to another that they no longer observe locales; they only watch arrows on screens. Of course, you also need to assume that your driver (in our case, one who spoke very little English) also knows how to operate a GPS after you have given him the address. Picture this if you will: Four adults with too many bags trying to get to a public building with a driver who does not know the city and who cannot operate his own GPS. What does the driver do? He hands the device to my daughter. Seriously! We are paying $40 plus tip to this guy and he's driving a limo like a maniac, missing streets, making wrong turns and swearing at us under his breath as we are pointing to the building we can clearly see but cannot reach while my daughter tries to navigate her way around an unfamiliar GPS system so we can get to the bus in time.  

After left hand turns from right lanes; after lost tempers and tossed baggage, we arrive at the Amtrak station just in time to pour ourselves onto an overstuffed bus of other accidental tourists for a three and a half hour ride. Destination - Vancouver..we hope.

(to be continued...)


  1. OY! I can just imagine it. This definitely does have the flavor of a car full of clowns.

  2. Thankfully your daughter was there! GPS are relatively easy to use, if the limo driver didn't cheap out and get a no-name brand. You have to admit, the trip does make for a great story. :)