Tag Archives: Travel

Taiwan 2010 – Part IV – My Life After the Cows

I knew that after a visit to the Pastureland Resort Experience, life was going to be a pale imitation of its former self, but I was determined to soldier on.

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It seems that Guanshan Township is part of the great Taiwanese bicycle experience. Sometime after our last visit, a bicycling craze overtook the island, with thousands of people touring round the island. As a former long distance bicycle rider, it’s a craze I can approve of, even if the idea of riding a bike on Taiwan’s roads fills me terror.

Dozens of places in Guanshan rent bicycles and several of the hotels offer bicycles for their guests. Neither of my kids can ride a bike, but the hotel offered bicycles built for two and we were able to coax Michelle onto one. (James was not the slightest bit worried about it.) Michelle road with me and, unfortunately, none of the bicycles were big enough for someone 6’3″. I extended the rusty seat post well past the minimum insertion line, just enough to let me peddle without smacking the handlebars with my knees (except when turning) and we were off. Still, a full downstroke, my knees still fully bent and I couldn’t get much power, making the ride difficult.

We rode about 5 km part way around the nicely built bicycle path that circles the town and the important part was that Michelle had a lot of fun and I have hopes she’ll really try to learn to ride her bike when we return to Arizona.

Between the incredibly uncomfortable seat, heavy bike weight, Michelle’s extra weight, poor gear ratio, no leg extension, high humidity and most importantly, my complete lack of shape, it was a brutal 5km.

I really want a bike like this. (OK, technically a trike)

After we checked out it was on to Taitung and then the Jhihben Hot Springs, or so I thought, but this trip had at least one more surprise for me.

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A Visit to the Chu Lu Ranch! A tourist dairy farm! Oh Joy, I feel I was dealt a Royal Fizzbin.

So, after an hour or so, plowing around another dairy farm, in deadening heat and humidity, I can honestly say I’ve seen all the dairy farms I ever want to see in Taiwan, if not the entire world!

I must say, Chu Lu Ranch is better than Rareseed Ranch, if you must go to one or the other.

As we had to pass through (or at least near) Taitung before we went to Jhihben, I decided enough was enough. I wanted to eat at McDonald’s. I’ve been in Jhihben before and I know the food selection is limited. I was prepared for that, but I wanted a western meal on the way through, and I wasn’t above priming the kids to get them to want McDonald’s, too. My father-in-law clearly didn’t want to go, but I did, and he subjected me to a second cow farm. Fair is fair. I deserved McDonald’s. (Really, is that a sentence that’s ever been written in English before?)

Leaving the cow farm and with the GPS and the iPhone, I was able to navigate us directly to the nearest McDonald’s, where I had fried chicken. (McDonald’s in Taiwan, and indeed throughout much of Asia, sells fried chicken. It’s really quite the best thing on their menu, I don’t know why they don’t have it in the US.)

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That bit of necessary business out of the way, we headed on to Jhihben, where we got a resort hot spring spa room that is to die for. Not only do they have the standard outdoor spas, but the pipe it into the spa rooms, too. (OK, the whole nonsense about the natural water being any different than heating water is just a huge marketing thing, but it’s still nice to soak in the hot, hot water.) The rains came, which prevented us from doing much outside, but I soaked my weary, bicycled-tortured legs and it was good.

We slipped back into Taitung for dinner and, after much wandering the streets, we ended up at the only Indian restaurant in Taitung. The menu was limited, but it was good.

Tomorrow, we take the day in Jhihben before catching the train back to Taipei. I’m taking things one day at a time, but my goal for tomorrow is simple: no cows.

Wish me luck.

Taiwan 2010 – Part IIIa – Pastureland Resort Experience Area (Episode 2)

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As you can see from this picture, I made it to the “Pastureland Resort Experience Area” but if you think I’m going to tell you about it straight away, you’ve got another think coming.

It was a long day to get to those cows, and it’s going to be a long blog post to get to the cows.

We started the day in Hualien – which is good because we ended the day before there, also. Hualien is the gateway to the Taroko Gorge, a mind-boggeling chasm wrought by nature out of the magnificent marble cliffs. Impressive but almost completely impassable by humans were it not for an equally impressive feat of manual labor to put a road into it. Taroko Gorge is the start (or end, if you prefer) of a cross-island, cross-mountain “highway” linking the east and west coast, designed originally to facilitate the movement of troops and material across the island in the event of Chinese invasion. By “highway” I actually mean a barely 2 lane road precipitously hacked into the sides of the cliffs.

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But I’ve done all that before, so instead we went to the next-chasm-over, which, as far as I can tell has no name, is equally impressive, until recently has been a restricted area so as tourists could not enter and, because of lack of military applications, hasn’t even got a two-lane goat track. It does have a strictly one-lane road hewn into the cliffs for access. I’m told that the area was restricted “to protect the environment” but it’s as plain as can be the real reason is the hydroelectric dam(s) along the river. As the road is just a service road for dam workers, it doesn’t need to be wide enough for two cars to pass. As a road for tourists, it leaves much to be desired. Because of their “conservation efforts” only 600 cars per day are allowed into the area – 300 in the morning, 300 in the afternoon. If the 300 morning cars on the way out met the 300 afternoon cars on the way in it would be absolutely impossible. its a terrifying experience to have to back up along that winding, narrow road (without rails) until you can find a rather optimistically small pull-out. There area equally small and rather long “tunnels” along the way – many of them are just there to keep the overhanging cliffs from falling on you.

It was a harrowing ride, and when we finally convinced him to turn back, he picked another road to follow that was equally as small. Beautiful scenery, but white-knuckle passenger time.

Apart from looking at the scenery, there’s nothing else to do except work your way down to the river, where the water is beautifully clear, but oddly blue-green, and splash around in the gravelly shallows. The kids had a lot of fun and the fish come to eat your feet, which is an odd feeling.

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At the “top” of one of the roads is a bridge about 200 to 300 feet high. On either side of the bridge, it was 40ºC and stifling hot. Standing on the bridge, the wind blowing up from the ocean is 10º cooler, at least and at least 30mph. I had an oddly juvenile desire to pee off the bridge (obviously with my back to the wind) but the road ends at the entrance to one of the hydroelectric plants and there’s a security guard on constant duty. You’ll have to settle for this picture off the bridge instead.

The scale of the cliffs is simply impossible to convey with my photographic skills. Time and time again I tried to take photos that would impart the feeling of utter defeat someone would have if they stood in the valley and looked up at the walls around them, but a wall of green just doesn’t look great on camera. I’ve tried various techniques and also shot several panoramas, which I’ll stitch together and post later. Other times I’d find the perfect spot, but there was absolutely no space for me to step outside the car to take the picture. There was quite literally no ground to stand on(!). It’s all very frustrating.

While I pointed out my father-in-law is doing the driving, I forgot to point out (in an affectionate way) how freakin’ annoying his driving is. I think he has entered a phase in his life where he refuses to listen to anyone, and when I say “anyone”, I actually mean people and street signs. It’s bad enough I’m constantly in the dark as to where we are going, but it is quite clear my father-in-law has some vague idea of where he wants to go, but absolutely no idea where it is. If Irene, while looking at the map, says, “turn left”, he’ll say, “I think it’s right” and turn right – followed by us wandering around more and more obscure backstreets until eventually we end up going where Irene indicated. He does the same thing with traffic signs! if they point straight ahead, he’ll turn left or right. I have no clue why he’s doing this, but on more than one occasion I had to pull out the iPhone and Google maps to figure out where the hell we were and to get us back on course. Considering I have no clue where we’re going either, the whole thing is a bit frightening, but mostly frustrating.

Also frustrating is my never-ending battle with food in Taiwan. In Taipei, not only do they have plenty of western food when required, but the quality, diversity and cleanliness of the Chinese restaurants means that I can eat at several places and not appear like one of those westerners that eats at McDonald’s only.

Down in the more rural parts of Taiwan, the story is very different. While restaurants are plentiful, western ones are non-existent and the Taiwanese/Chinese ones are… mostly scary. Cleanliness standards not suitable for a car mechanic’s workshop and a unique tendency to eat the parts of animals we throw away. At the B&B we stayed at, the breakfast was catered and we had a choice of “hamburger”, “club sandwich” or “daikon cakes”

Actually, although my “club” sandwich bore little resemblance to a club sandwich, it wasn’t bad. If I’d been given 3 of them, it would have been a meal. I consisted of something akin to spam, with egg, lettuce, thousand island dressing and, I think, a thin hamburger patty on white bread. The hamburger was egg, lettuce, thousand island dressing and, I think, a thin hamburger patty on a bun.

It wasn’t much to go on and I expected to stop in Hualien to eat before heading into the rift valley. Oh no, we couldn’t go two miles out of our way, instead after touring the nameless chasm, we plunged, food-less into the rift valley.

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At lunch we stopped at a rest stop. Bicycling has become a bit of a craze in Taiwan, and there are rest stop cataring to car and bike travelers all over the rift valley. The valley is flat and easy to traverse, so I can see why it would make a good bicycle destination. The rest stop had exactly five food items for sale. Intestines, bamboo shoots, misc vegetables, cold, nasty chicken and pork. The pork is that really interesting Taiwanese pork that seems to be nothing but chopped bones, fat and skin. Somehow they’ve bread pigs with no flesh, just the scraps. I had a bowl of the worst, dullest, driest rice I’ve ever had in my life.

After lunch we went to the nearby Hualien (county, not city) Tourism Sugar Refinery, which turns out isn’t open to tourists expect by reservation, but there’s a small “museum” that best isn’t even recounted, unless you’re a fan of exhibits such as, “This is a typical desk used in the 1950’s, this is a typical phone, this is a typical rolodex, etc.” Mind you, some of the equipment they were using in the 1950’s, we’re still using in AZ state government offices today. What does that tell you about Taiwan or Arizona?


I’ve got very limited internet access and the hotel in Guanshan Township (which narratively, I haven’t arrived at yet) has free wi-fi, so I’m posting this first half of the blog post now. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to the cow part, so that will be forthcoming in the next installment. Sorry for getting you all excited about the cows and not delivering. Next time for sure!

Taiwan 2010 – Part III – The Quest for the Cows (Episode 1)

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Taiwan is a different place.

Oh, I know, that’s not the single most insightful thing I’ve ever written, but neither is it as fatuous as it sounds.

Regular readers of my blog may remember my last trip to Taiwan where we went to visit a major tourist destination: a sheep farm. It was pleasant and scenic, but the fascination with reasonably ordinary farmyard animals was completely lost on me. In some way these sheep were “famous” in the curious Taiwanese definition of the word “famous”.

“Famous” in that context means “in some way the first of something that has been promoted as something a lot more special than it really is.” All other sheep farms now pale in comparison and any discriminating person who wants some sheep byproduct would certainly buy their sheep products from the famous sheep farm.

This trip, we’re heading to the opposite end of the island to see the famous cow farm. Bizarre though it sounds, I don’t really mind. While I can’t claim to have seen everything in Taiwan, I can reasonably state that I have been to every major area of the island, save for one.

Several years ago, we took an around-the-island tour. Taiwan is roughly leaf-shaped and running right down the middle of the island is a truly impressive and formidable mountain range. On the west side of the island, the coastal areas are fairly flat and friendly. The bulk of the island’s population lives along this western coast. The east, on the other hand, is little more than the eastern edge of the mountain range, which plummets into the sea. It makes for dramatic coastlines, but there are few places suitable for large towns.

While we made the dramatic coastal drive, we bypassed a so-called “rift valley” near the extreme south-eastern end of the island. I’m told that the rift valley is both dramatically beautiful and filled with pastoral tranquility. Hyperbole it might be but there’s one thing you can say about Taiwan: The scenery if often as dramatic as it is made out to be. (Once you get past all the concrete they’re built stuff out of everywhere.

Living in such pastoral bliss, these cows give the finest milk on the island – which, considering the entire island is lactose-intolerant, it quite funny.

Somehow, I imagine this place as being similar to a Sonoma Valley winery, where guests stay in a charming resort built on a working winery. They stay, they enjoy the weather and countryside, have a wine tasting, buy a few cases and return to their mundane lives.

In this alternate Taiwan-reality, substitute “dairy farm” for “winery” and “milk” for “wine” and you’ve pretty much conjured up the image I have in my mind. I see groups of people lined up at a table, with bottles of milk and a bucket. They move from glass to glass, sipping the milk, then spitting it out into the bucket. Like wine tasters trying not to get drunk by consuming the wine, Taiwanese milk-tasters must spit it out lest the dreaded affects of lactose-intolerance cut short their milk-tasting.

That’s what I’m imaging but I’ll find out tomorrow. Today we’re in Hualien, marble capital of Taiwan – if not Asia. Hualien is one of the few viable ports on the east cost and, as the nearby mountains are made of marble, this is big business here.

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I kid you not: The sidewalks are made of marble here. Bet that’s a joy when it rains.

We took a train to Hualien, then rented a car. We sent the afternoon wandering around and sightseeing. I finally saw something that I’d heard of but never witnessed before: my father-in-law doesn’t know how to drive an automatic transmission car! I can understand not being familiar with it, but it’s automatic for crying out loud!

We’re staying in a little cement bead and breakfast south of Hualien on the coast. There’s no internet, but I can kick my iPhone on and do a bit of communicating with the outside world. While driving around town, I had to turn it on several times. It seems we can know where we’re going with the iPhone, but we get lost as soon as I turn it off. International data roaming charges aren’t cheap, so I’m trying to keep my numbers down, but it’s just too useful!

We spent some time down at a rock-strewn coastline laughingly called “a beach” and I missed the perfect photo of the day – perhaps the photo of the trip. My father-in-law headed back to the van. James realized he was gone and was chasing after him. As he approached, my father-in-law heard him and turned around and he had just the biggest, happiest smile imaginable on his face. It was quite literally that smile that only grandparents can have when caught up in the joy of having the grandchildren around. I’m still kicking myself for missing it.

You won’t be reading this post until at least after I’ve seen the cows, so stay tuned for episode 2.

Taiwan 2010 – Part II – Of Eating Habits and Knowing When to Shut up

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Our first day in Taiwan passed somewhat uneventfully. We ate, we went to the park, we fought the insidious effects of jet lag – rather unsuccessfully, as, while I managed to stay awake until around 8:00PM local time (5:00AM AZ time) I awoke just before midnight feeling refreshed, wide-awake and hungry. The rest of the night proceeded in similar fits.

Yesterday as a bit better, as we’ve gotten out and about, did some shopping and did a bit of sightseeing.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I’m writing about food.

The Taiwanese, at least those I deal with, seem to have no concept of discriminating taste. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but what I mean is that they seem to completely embrace the concept of “eating whatever is set in front of you.” (My mother-in-law excepted, who will eat it, but will make sure you know that she doesn’t like it through nothing more than the magic of her facial expressions.)

My grandfather was the same way. He lived through the Great Depression and he would eat anything put in front of him. I wonder if, at least to some degree, this is true with the Taiwanese. It’s not so long ago that the prosperous island of Taiwan was only prosperous to the few “connected” individuals. The bulk of the island’s inhabitants were much nearer the poverty line than not.

Nonetheless, from Chinese banquets, to street vendors and everything in between, the idea of “special orders” or dietary restrictions seem alien to them. (Of course, they’ll do it, but they look at you like you dropped in from another planet and just asked for a broom for breakfast.)

I still remember clearly when my friend with a deathly egg and poultry allergy came to our wedding in Taiwan, more often than not, when we explained about his condition, they seemed almost to look put upon or not believing. In some cases, they served egg contaminated or poultry food to him anyway. Fortunately, he’s very cautious and avoided serious medical problems.

As a picky eater, I can’t claim a medical excuse, but I still don’t fit in well in this culinary world. You might just think it is picky, but I don’t think so. I just want to enjoy my food. Is that a crime?

Yes, it’s true, If I like pepperoni or sausage pizza, and you like vegetables and another person likes cheese pizza, in my book it is not an acceptable compromise to order a pizza with everything on it. That solution thereby guarantees everyone gets what they don’t want. If that’s picky, then so be it.

But here’s something I simply cannot imagine ever happening back home: Last night, it was apparently too late to go eat, so my bother-in-law was tasked with buying food. His remit was simple: Get food and remember Eugene is a picky eater. (I don’t think they yet realize that my kids are far more picky than I am.)

I didn’t have much hopes, but, when food arrived, mine was excellent, but, and this is the part that makes me write this: look at that picture. They’re hamburgers. Excellent quality, gourmet-style hamburgers – and no two are alike, and no one was consulted on what to order. There’s a cheeseburger, a chicken burger, a bacon cheeseburger with a funny sauce, a jalepeño-laden spicy burger, a mushroom burger and hot wings. Never in my life would I think to walk into a restaurant, order a random assortment of different types of food and bring it home to a group of diverse people and expect anything but chaos as people jockeyed to find the burger they’d like. It seems like the Taiwanese wouldn’t think twice about doing that.

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Me? I had the bacon cheeseburger.

Taiwan 2010 – Part I – A whole lot of waiting and cramping.

The first part of any Arizona to Taiwan trip is a misery. There’s no long and short of it, it’s just a royal pain.

Arrive two hours early (at 5:30AM) for a 7:30 flight.

Flight to LA, 1 hour.

6.5 hour layover in America’s most miserable airport – no thanks, we decided to take a train and get out of the airport.

2 hour transit by train to a mostly random destination. If the ride had been shorter, we could have gone to the La Brea Tar pits, but ti wasn’t.

1 hour eating at a fast food restaurant

2 hours back to the airport by train

Arrive 1.5 hours before flight and wait.

Fly on plane for 14 hours in astounding agony of crampness.

Finally fall asleep on the flight with only 9 hours remaining… wake up: there’s only 7 hours

Repeat at 5 hours and 3 hours.

Watched Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightening Thief. Did they even bother to read the original book? Sucked. Totally wrong.

Arrive Taipei, go through immigration, customs and then drive 90 minutes to get into Taipei!

25 hours to make the distance. Misery. Pure Misery.

Trips and Videos

In a couple weeks, we’ll be in Taiwan.

I’ve upgraded (or downgraded, depending on how you look at it) all our travel video gear. This year, in addition to digital cameras and phones that can record video, we’ll be carrying two different mini-HD cameras. Chu-Wan has a “Flip MinoHD Camcorder, 60 Minutes (Black)” (Flip Video) and I have a “Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera (Aqua)” (Eastman Kodak Company). So far, I’m particularly happy with the Zi8 because it uses SD cards, has a replaceable battery and a microphone jack. These small cameras really have a problem with camera shake because they’re so light your hand just naturally moves them around a lot.

I’ve upgraded my Vimeo account to handle all HD videos and I’ve setup a dedicated channel just for videos from this trip. You can subscribe to the Lone Locust Taiwan 2010 Channel right here.

Don’t expect greatness, but do expect some video from Taiwan…

The Priceline Experience

Now, I can make my final judgment on our recent experiment using priceline.com to book our hotels.

A brief recap:

  • We decided to book our hotel(s) on a San Diego trip via Priceline’s name your price program.
  • We bid for 3 nights at a minimum 3-star hotel at $75 per night – fully expecting to be rejected
  • We “won” the bid, to our delight at the Woodfin San Diego.
  • We decided we could afford another night at that rate and attempted to extend the day an additional day at the same rate.
  • Priceline could not match the $75 and instead was able to offer $116. We decided to decline.
  • We thought we’d be clever and tried to extend the stay the other direction and arrive one day earlier.
  • Having already bid on an extension at the end, Priceline would not allow us to try to arrive earlier, either.
  • We decided to bid separately for another night, knowing it would be at a different hotel.
  • We again bid $75, but this time chose only 4-star hotels.
  • Again to our surprise (and even greater delight) we got a room at the Omni San Diego.

Actually, before we attempted to extend the stay at the Woodfin, we checked the place out online. The hotel seemed just fine, and we noted that most of the rooms at the hotel were actually suites with a bedroom, living room with sofa bed and kitchenette. We inquired with the hotel and learned we could “upgrade” for $20 more a night. The kitchenette meant could prepare our own breakfasts and save nearly $20 each day, and a sofa bed for the kids wouldn’t go amiss.

We took that into account before we bid on the extension, so, in essence, we were prepared to pay a total of $95 per night (still cheap by San Diego room rates available online.) That meant that the $116 became $136 and that was just out-of-bounds.

The hotel itself was perfectly acceptable. It was clean, quiet and close to several of the places we wanted to go. It was also close to fast food and other restaurants, a Fresh & Easy for shopping and a park where we took the kids to play in the evening.

We were never troubled in any way by staff or other guests. There was the fire alarm incident, but you can’t hold anyone to blame for things like that.

If I had any criticism of the it might be that one evening we called and asked for extra towels and they said housekeeping would bring them up and they never did.

Priceline Experience 1: Woodfin San Diego. Good price, good room, no complaints. If this is an example of the typical Priceline experience (especially if you don’t go trying to change things after you’ve started) then it’s all recommended by me.

Now, on to the Omni San Diego…

Largely what you might expect from the Omni would be a top-class hotel, and indeed it was in every way. The facilities were immaculate and well designed. The staff were all friendly, efficient and almost comically eager to please. I described elsewhere how they found Sawyer the Cat for us. The hotel also provides a toy bag for each child staying in the hotel. the bag, somewhat mysteriously, also contains a kazoo. Who in their right mind would give a kazoo to kids in a hotel?

Being just an “ordinary” room with two beds, we didn’t have nearly as much space as we did at the Woodfin, but it was more luxurious (I’m not sure that’s quite the right word but it will have to do.)

The stay wasn’t quite as uneventful as at the Woodfin. The first night (and remember, we were only booked for one) there was a room party of some kind 2 doors down. It didn’t sound exactly like a big party, but the music was a bit loud (enough to come through the walls from two rooms down) and two or three children kept running out of the room, slamming the door, and running up and down the hotel corridor every few minutes.

Unfortunately, the doors to the room opened inwards, and I was unable to swing it open and give them an “accidental” face full of door as they passed our room over and over. They quieted down by 10:00PM. That’s a little late when you’ve got small children going to bed at 8:30, but not excessively, so I hadn’t reached the point where I would call the hotel. Either they voluntarily shut down before I decided to call, or the hotel shut them down.

Despite that, we decided on the first night that we were going to test Priceline again and try to stay yet another night. We realized we wouldn’t get the kids to the beach if we didn’t add a day.

Here’s another restriction we learned about Priceline: You can only extend a stay by the same number of day (or less) of the original bid. In other words, we could have attempted to extend the stay at the Woodfin up to three more nights, but we could only try to extend the stay at the Omni by one night. This was no problem because we only wanted one night, but it’s good to know for future reference.

We weren’t hopeful we’d get an extension. We were scheduled to depart on Friday morning, and so we’d be trying to book into a weekend slot, which is no doubt busier and normally more expensive.

Once again, Priceline couldn’t get a $75 extension, but came up with $94, which we felt was reasonable enough to accept.

Indeed, the next day the hotel was noticeably livelier. It turns out that the Omni is next door to Petco ballpark. Sadly, they don’t play cricket there, but instead that baseball game that’s all the rage in this country, and there was a game Friday night, so the whole area was packed, and, from our window, we could watch the left fielder (cow corner) play ball.

So, the Omni itself was just about perfect. Just about. My complaint? I think the complaint is more about Priceline. It’s hidden costs… the Omni charges $30 per night for their parking (which is valet only.) That would have effectively bumped our $75 per night room to $105, or a 40% increase over what we bided and accepted.

We parked at a garage across the street for less than the $30, but that was still an unexpected additional cost “gotcha.” At no point in the Priceline bid process do you have any opportunity to specify any form of minimum requirements such as “free parking.”

So, Priceline Experience 2: Omni San Diego. Great price, but hidden costs. Exceptional experience otherwise.

In conclusion

Overall I’m quite pleased with the Priceline experience. It reduced our costs down so much that we were actually able to take a short vacation, which we had pretty much concluded was not going to be able to happen this year due to finances. In fact, that worked so well, we were able to take a two-day longer vacation than we originally planned.

I would; however, take from this a couple of lessons.

The first is to be wary of hidden costs, and plan accordingly. I don’t know any way you prevent them from happening based on the system they’ve got and I don’t know how often these things happen. I’m sure that 99.9% of all hotels in California have free parking, so this was just “one of those things” but it does seem like it might need to be taken into account.

The second is to go with the 4 star hotels and bid low, really low. The same room we got at $75, booked online at the Omni’s website costs $219 per night – but includes “complimentary valet parking for one car per night”.

Third, plan your vacation a lot better than we did. Figure out exactly how many nights you’re going to stay, in advance, and stick to it. Even if you have to say to yourself, “We’ll stay five nights if we can get $75 and only four if it is over $90…” etc, and then bid accordingly. Save any further thoughts of extending your stay until you’re in the room.

Next domestic trip, I can assure you, we will be using Priceline to book our rooms.

Fuzzy Kittens

I recognize that my previous post was a bit of a rant, but, I can assure you, dear reader, that had it written it immediately after the event, it would have been positively vitriolic, even by my standards. As it was, it still took three complete re-writes (from scratch) before I thought it down to PG-13 level.

To help soften things up a bit, I thought I’d tell this tale of a fuzzy little kitten, named Sawyer.

Sawyer is a stuffed cat. Not a stuffed previously-live cat, but a stuffed toy cat. He is a fluffy white toy given to my daughter when she was very young by a friend. The cat is very soft and droopy. it’s also permanently positioned in a reclining, lying-on-the-side resting repose. It looks, for all the world, like a dead cat lying along the side of the road.

I named him Sawyer long before Michelle could talk. Someday, I suppose, she’ll get the Tom Sawyer reference. The name has stuck, but quite often she just calls it, “kitty.” That could be a genetic throw-back to my dad, who named every cat we had some variation of “puss” or “kitty”.

We left the hotel for the beach and, with a little persuading, got the kids to leave their toys behind in the room. They’d no doubt get lost or destroyed at the beach.

Later that day, when we returned, nobody really noticed that Sawyer was gone.

The next morning; however, Michelle was in fits being unable to find the cat. We searched the room with no luck. All the other stuffed animals that had been in the same place were still there, so we concluded that Michelle had taken Sawyer the car in the afternoon/evening. The car was parked in a garage across the street and as we were getting packed up to leave, I headed across to search the car. Sawyer wasn’t there.

I knew a storm would be brewing. Michelle can be very emotional about such things and Sawyer would be her first lost “major” stuffed toy.

I stopped by the front desk, working on the slightest possible chance that she’d dropped Sawyer in a hallway or the elevators, and, to their credit, they made a bit of a production out of checking with their housekeeping and such. They checked their logs and asked around, but alas, Sawyer was gone.

Michelle freaked out. We did our best to convince her that everyone was doing everything they could to find Sawyer, but we knew in our hearts he was gone. We knew that she must have dropped him somewhere, but she continued to insist that she’d left Sawyer in the room and that someone had taken him.

We explained that the only people in the room would have been housekeeping, and they wouldn’t take Sawyer. There were other stuffed animals and even electronic equipment in the room. If they’d been thieves, they wouldn’t have taken Sawyer.

As we were preparing to leave, the head of housekeeping called our room. They had found a white cat, that had been scooped with all the white comforters, sheets and towels the day before and it was found as it was being prepared for the laundry.

Yes, it was Sawyer, and Michelle was overjoyed to have her kitty back.

And that is the heartwarming tale of Sawyer the cat and the staff of the Omni, who get a lot of points in my book for saving a little girl’s fuzzy kitten.